Manchester City may not need a striker, as Guardiola rewrites rule book
Watching Manchester City dismember Leeds United, as they have done to almost everyone they’ve played this season, it’s tempting to wonder exactly why so many seem so keen for them to sign a big-name central striker.
In the absence of Harry Kane or Sergio Aguero, the major narrative running into this Premier League season was that City, despite their embarrassment of riches in forward areas, would frequently struggle to find the back of the net. While that is true to a certain extent, it surely isn’t enough to mean the club necessarily need to go out and spend major money in order to plug a gap that so rarely leaks.
Part of City’s charm is how varied their attack can be. If it’s not Raheem Sterling running in behind, Kevin De Bruyne or Joao Cancelo hitting defence-splitting passes or Phil Foden dragging defenders out of position, it’s Riyad Mahrez cutting inside, Bernado Silva striking picture-perfect volleys or Ilkay Gundogan breaking into the box.
Indeed, that’s without even mentioning Jack Grealish, Gabriel Jesus, Ferran Torres and the developing Cole Palmer and James McAtee, who Gary Neville described as “David Silva clones”. Rather than one sharp point, they are a bouquet of beautiful flowers. A tapestry, woven both by state-backed billions and Pep Guardiola’s brilliance in equal measure.
So for Manchester City to turn to a big name striker, who are naturally selfish players, does not seem like the answer. After all, that particular trait is not something Guardiola values, typified best by his work with Grealish and Mahrez.
Clearly, the latter is a lot further along in the process (probably by virtue of the fact he’s simply been there longer) but both players were the main men and attacking fulcrums of teams further down the Premier League.
In those structures, they can pretty much do whatever they want. At City, the onus is on the collective. Slowly but surely, the ultimate individualists became supporting actors in an all-star cast.
The 2020/21 Kane might have been a good fit but there are plenty of indications that the England captain will not get back to those levels. By the time the next transfer window rolls around, Kane will be fast-approaching 30.
Erling Haaland, another to have been strongly linked, could well morph into a Robert Lewandowski or Karim Benzema type forward but he seems more of a Cristiano Ronaldo-like goal machine at the expense of anything else at the moment.
That might be a somewhat simplistic analysis of what looks to be a generational talent but the demands his camp are chasing – reportedly £400k-per-week – could also risk having a negative impact on team morale.
City, despite their resources off the pitch, have rarely indicated they are willing to get into such transfer battles. There is a (very) relative purity to how they build teams, albeit undermined by the nature of their backing.
If Manchester City do buy a striker, they’re surely better off looking at either the very young or very experienced markets. Someone like Edinson Cavani is to Manchester United would be perfect, a hugely experienced player with a track record of scoring goals but who doesn’t necessarily need to play every week.
Given everything we’ve seen from the club under this ownership, a January move for anyone seems unlikely, particularly given their recent form. Forced to work on internal solutions by a decision Tottenham surely regret making now, Guardiola has once again stumbled on what looks like a magic formula.
For the second season in a row, he could win the Premier League for Manchester United without a star central striker. That, above anything else, would surely be his greatest achievement.
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