Man City mustn’t stand still in this summer’s transfer market

Manchester City have set a new precedent at the top of the English game over the past two seasons, registering a combined 198 points over the 2017/18 and 2018/19 campaigns, collecting two Premier League titles. No team has dominated the English top flight like they have of late.

It’s difficult to envisage how Pep Guardiola’s side can possibly improve on what they have achieved over the past two seasons. And yet there are still some deficiencies to be addressed this summer. In terms of personnel, they could afford to strengthen in some areas before the start of the new season.

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There have been rumours. Atletico Madrid Rodri was deemed to be their number one target. Tanguy Ndombele has also been linked with a move to the Etihad Stadium this summer, although Tottenham Hotspur now seem to have skipped ahead of City in the race to sign the Lyon man.

Ben Chilwell has been mentioned, as has Aaron Wan-Bissaka as doubts around Man City’s current full back options persist. More recently, it has been reported that Joao Felix is edging closer to the Abu Dhabi-owned outfit, with City thought to be willing to loan the teenager back to Benfica for at least one season.

Despite all this speculation Man City have yet to make a single move this summer. The clock is already ticking with the Premier League’s transfer deadline two weeks before the rest of Europe’s. Some have started to suggest that City don’t need to make a signing or two before that deadline passes.

That would be a mistake, though. With Liverpool only getting better with every season under Jurgen Klopp Man City cannot afford to stand still this summer. The Etihad Stadium side have done that before as Premier League champions, both under Roberto Mancini and Manuel Pellegrini, and have been made to pay the price.

It’s not beyond the realms of possibility that history could repeat itself if City start the 2019/20 season with the same squad, especially if Liverpool spend big again this summer. What’s more, Guardiola is still to deliver on the objective he was hired on the basis of on the first place. City are still some way from being European champions.

The best teams always seek to improve on past results no matter how impressive they are. Man City’s results over the past two seasons could barely be more impressive, but that doesn’t mean that they will continue to be impressive indefinitely. City, as they have done in each of the past few years, must spend.

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Why would Mohamed Salah want to leave Liverpool?

There was a time not so long ago when Liverpool couldn’t keep their best players when the big clubs, namely the two Spanish giants, came calling. It happened when Barcelona came calling for Luis Suarez and again when they identified Philippe Coutinho as their top target last January. It even happened as long ago as the early 2000s when Michael Owen was lured to Real Madrid.

A lot has changed since then. Liverpool are European champions after winning their sixth Champions League title earlier this month. Not for decades have things been so bright at Anfield, with Jurgen Klopp taking the Reds back to the top of the sport after a long, long time in the wilderness.

Mohamed Salah

And yet there are still reports that Mohamed Salah, Liverpool’s best player and top goalscorer, is planning a move to Real Madrid, not this summer but the next. The Egyptian is currently under contract until 2023 only signing a new deal with the Anfield club last summer. Liverpool don’t need to sell him.

These reports that Liverpool chiefs have been made aware of Salah’s intentions and are making plans to try and persuade the forward to stay for the long term. But why would he want to leave in the first place? Are Real Madrid really a more attractive proposition than Real Madrid are right now?

The Spanish capital will always be attractive to elite level football players, but Klopp has built something special at Liverpool. They will be at the top of the English and European game for years to come and what’s more, despite their Champions League win this season there is still a sense of unfinished business after their failure to clinch a first ever Premier League title.

Salah is a central part of what Klopp has built. Would he be as integral to things at Real Madrid? Players, even superstars like the Egyptian, are treated as disposal at the Santiago Bernabeu. Just ask Gareth Bale about how difficult it is to satisfy the notoriously difficult Madrid fanbase and media.

Real Madrid isn’t even necessarily a place where Salah would clean up in terms of silverware. They have won just two league titles in the past 11 years compared to the eight Barcelona have swept in the same timeframe. While Liverpool got their hands on the biggest trophy in club football this season, Real Madrid ended up with nothing.

Football moves in cycles and right now Liverpool are at the very least on an equal footing to Real Madrid in the food chain. Not so long ago, Salah’s desire to move to Spain would have been understandable. No longer, though.

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Have Real Madrid forgotten about Vinicius?

Real Madrid tend to get their man, even if it takes a few years. Eden Hazard had long appeared destined to one day pull on the famous white jersey of the Spanish giants with the Belgian finally making the move to the Santiago Bernabeu this summer. It’s a move that had been a long, long time in the making.

Of course, Real Madrid still have a void to fill after the departure of Cristiano Ronaldo to Juventus last summer. Not just in terms of goals, but in terms of stardust. They need players who can handle the weight of carrying a club of such stature. Hazard certainly fits the bill in that regard.

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But positionally and tactically, did Real Madrid really need Hazard? He is a left-sided attacker and it’s on the left side where Zinedine Zidane’s side are strongest. They have Marco Asensio, but more notably it’s where Vinicius Junior made himself the brightest teenage talent in Spanish football last season.

Indeed, the Brazilian was the breakout star of the 2018/19 La Liga season. He was a revelation for Real Madrid, becoming their most important player for a spell between the turn of the year and Easter. Were it not for injury he might well have done more to save Real Madrid’s campaign.

It was expected that Vinicius would hold down a starting place next season, but will that still be the case now that Hazard has been signed? Can Zidane find a way to fit both the Brazilian and the Belgian into the same team? If he can’t, could the money used to spend Hazard have been used elsewhere?

Real Madrid had a number of positions to fill this summer. They needed a centre forward and got one in the form of Luka Jovic, signed from Eintracht Frankfurt after an excellent season in Germany. They needed a left back and got one in the form of Ferland Mendy, signed from Lyon.

Zidane also needs a central playmaker, with Real Madrid linked with both Christian Eriksen and Paul Pogba. Might it be the case that Hazard becomes more of a central force so that both he and Vinicius can be accommodated in the same side? He has, after all, played that role on occasion for Belgium.

Real Madrid needed players who could perform here and now. But they mustn’t neglect their future in the process of overhauling their team. Hazard represents the here and now, while Vinicius represents their future. The challenge for Zidane is to look after both.

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What has happened to Marco Asensio?

It was after a 5-1 aggregate defeat to Real Madrid in the Spanish Super Cup back in 2017 that Gerard Pique admitted he felt, for the first time, Barcelona to be “inferior” to Real Madrid. There were a number of factors that led the Catalan centre back to make just a bold confession and one of them was surely Marco Asensio.

Asensio scored twice over the two legs of that Spanish Super Cup final, with one of them a stunning strike from distance that deceived Marc-Andre Ter Stegen in the Barcelona goal by moving one way and then the next before finding the back of the net. It was just another moment of brilliance from a player destined for the top.

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Or so it seemed at the time. Asensio was seen as Real Madrid’s next Galactico, the future face of the club. Possibly even a future Ballon d’Or winner. Things have gone a little differently since then, though. In recent times, Asensio has been a shadow of his former self. A pale imitation of the player who shimmered so bright not so long ago.

Zinedine Zidane seems to have lost faith in the 23-year-old, with Asensio now a peripheral figure at Real Madrid. The hope was that Zidane’s return would help restore Asensio. It was, after all, the Frenchman that brought through the young attacker. There has been no such resurgence, though.

Instead, Asensio is, according to reports, being touted around Europe. Liverpool have long tracked the 23-year-old and with Real Madrid supposedly open to a sale it seems that the Anfield outfit might well get their man. Chelsea have also been linked with a move for the attacker, although their transfer embargo could prove to be an obstacle.

This wasn’t how Asensio’s Real Madrid career was meant to pan out, but it appears that Zidane has decided that the 23-year-old doesn’t fit into his plans for the future. The Spanish capital club find themselves in a mess and Zidane must be ruthless in his restoration of his squad, even if it means cutting Asensio.

Along with Gareth Bale, there has been no greater victim of the chaos that has engulfed the Santiago Bernabeu over the past year or so than Asensio. There is still time for him to retrace the upward trajectory he has diverted from, but increasingly it seems that he will do so away from Real Madrid.

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Treble would be Pep Guardiola’s crowning achievement in England

When Pep Guardiola arrived in England, becoming Manchester City’s new manager in the summer of 2016, they said he would find a very different environment to the one he’d made his own so emphatically in Germany and Spain. Across the board, it was claimed that the Catalan coach would receive the test of his career in the Premier League.

How those suggestions look foolish now. Guardiola has done to the English game exactly what he did to both the  Bundesliga and La Liga, winning back-to-back Premier League titles, collecting an astonishing 198 points over those two seasons. And City’s dominance could be underlined further still this weekend.

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Indeed, Guardiola can complete a treble of domestic trophies by leading Man City to victory over Watford in the FA Cup final. It might not be The Treble, which traditionally comprises the Champions League trophy, but a clean sweep of domestic honours would provide a stark illustration of where City are as a team and a club right now.

Not even Sir Alex Ferguson’s Treble-winning team of 1999 were as dominant of the English game as Man City are now. Guardiola and his players stand on the brink of an historic achievement, but not even the sight of three domestic trophies in the cabinet at the end of this season will effectively reflect the quality of this team.

They might get even better next season. Guardiola is relentless in his quest for excellence and so it has been speculated that City will sign a long term replacement for the ageing Fernandinho this summer and possibly even a new right back. Ben Chilwell, a left back, has also been spoken about for quite some time.

The English game is entering a new phase in its history. City are kings and it will take an almighty effort to dethrone them. Liverpool, of course, finished just one point behind the Etihad Stadium side in the Premier League table and yet the gulf felt somewhat bigger than that. Liverpool gave everything the had to stretch to 97 points. City, on the other hand, strolled to 98.

Guardiola always viewed England as the true litmus test of his managerial ability. Whether that was warranted or not, he has succeeded in glorious fashion. Victory on Saturday would provide Guardiola with his crowning achievement in English football.

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Liverpool must continue on their path of relentless improvement

In any other season, with the exception of last season, Liverpool would have been champions. In fact, had they registered their tally of 97 points in any other Premier League campaign besides the last two, Jurgen Klopp’s side would have been the strongest in the history of the division, at least numerically.

Liverpool fans don’t need another message of consolation reminding them of just how unfortunate they were to finish such an astonishing season second to Manchester City. There has been enough of those over the past couple days. This doesn’t help to ease the pain in any way.

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The Anfield side must use that pain to continue to improve, though. Of course, they still have a Champions League final against Tottenham Hotspur to look forward to, but when that matter has been settled and pre-season begins again there will be no doubting Liverpool’s aim for the campaign ahead – win the Premier League title.

Last year, they identified deficiencies in their squad, in goals, at centre back and in the centre of midfield, and so Alisson Becker, Virgil Van Dijk and Fabinho were all swiftly signed for something close to a combined £200 million. All three players have since delivered on their promise, even if Fabinho took a little longer to find his feet at his new club.

It’s this sort of ruthless drive that will be required again this summer if Liverpool are to draw Manchester City in at the top of the English game. They could still use another centre back, for instance, so they aren’t so reliant on Joel Matip and Dejan Lovren when Joe Gomez isn’t available. Matthijs de Ligt has been linked, with the Dutchman certainly fitting the bill of a signing that screams ambition. The Ajax teenager might, however, be an unrealistic target with Barcelona expected to complete a deal soon.

Depth is also required in the attacking third. Divock Origi and Daniel Sturridge have performed adequately enough in the recent absence of Roberto Firmino, but there has been an element of fluke to their goals. Liverpool must look to add depth, perhaps in the form of someone like Thorgan Hazard or Timo Werner, not just to provide options, but to press existing attackers to new levels. Liverpool’s season might have ended in disappointment, but they must use that to go even further next season.

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Real Madrid must ease reliance on Karim Benzema next season

Almost from the moment Zinedine Zidane’s return to Real Madrid was confirmed, the Santiago Bernabeu outfit have embarked on the longest pre-season programme in football history. Indeed, with Real Madrid out of the Liga title race, out of the Copa del Rey and out of the Champions League, the final couple months of the season became about preparing for the next one.

This has seen Zidane experiment with a number of options in essentially dead rubber games. He has tried different options in goals – Thibaut Courtois, Keylor Navas and even his own son, Luca Zidane. He has alternated between Marcelo and Sergio Reguilon at left back. Alvaro Odriozola and Dani Carvajal have taken it game about at right back. Jesus Vallejo has earned the Frenchman’s trust while even the forgotten man Mariano Diaz has been given a chance up front.

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Of course, Mariano has only been given a run in the first team due to the injury suffered by Karim Benzema. Questions were asked of the Frenchman last season, to the extent where his exit from the Santiago Bernabeu looked probable. However, the exit of Cristiano Ronaldo last summer changed things and Benzema has delivered, crossing the 30-goal mark.

However, Real Madrid have become too dependent on the goals of Benzema. With Mariano’s goal in the win over Villarreal last weekend, he became the first player that isn’t Benzema to find the back of the net in 568 minutes. While they were once reliant on Ronaldo to provide a cutting edge in the final third, now it’s Benzema they lean on.

This is arguably the most pressing of all the concerns Zidane must have in his mind ahead of next season. Real Madrid will undergo a summer overhaul, with the squad almost certain to be replenished. It is in the final third where their efforts will be focused most acutely and they must find goals.

Quite simply, the likes of Marco Asensio, Gareth Bale, Isco and Lucas Vazquez haven’t contributed enough in front of goal this season. Even Vinicius Junior, the breakout star of the 2018/19 La Liga season, needs to sharpen up his finishing. The addition of players like Eden Hazard and Luka Jovic, both expected to join Real Madrid this summer, should held, but Zidane knows what he must find ahead of next season – goals.

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Jurgen Klopp has eradicated Liverpool’s inferiority complex

What value can be put on belief? It is one of those great sporting intangibles, along with team spirit and character, but anyone who doubted its worth at the elite level of football had their views challenged by what happened at Anfield on Tuesday night.

Statistics tell the tale of a game Liverpool deserved to win. They had more shots than Barcelona on the night and claimed a greater share of the territory despite the Catalans boasting a larger share of the possession. But what Jurgen Klopp’s side did on Tuesday night cannot be quantified in such a way. It was down to something else. Something that’s a bit more difficult to grasp.

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For years, decades even, this great intangible seemed to be against Liverpool. Even when Anfield bore witness to great teams, like the ones assembled by Rafael Benitez and Brendan Rodgers, there was a gnawing sense of fatalism that all to frequently seeped into the players on the pitch. Their challenges almost always ended in glorious failure.

Of course, might contest that Liverpool’s recent successes have come as the result of a never say die attitude – see Istanbul and that Steven Gerrard stunner against West Ham in the FA Cup final. But even in these moments, Liverpool possessed an inferiority complex. If anything, these comebacks only served to accentuate further their complex. They saw themselves as underdogs.

There was something different about Liverpool’s Champions League semi final turnaround against Barcelona, though. Klopp’s men felt slighted by the heavy defeat suffered in the first leg. They believed themselves to be Barca’s equals and that shone through in the way they took the game to the Catalans on Tuesday night.

In the context of this season’s Premier League title race, Liverpool are still underdogs. They have pulled off countless comebacks, scoring several late goals to keep themselves within touching distance of Manchester City at the top of the table. With just one game left, Liverpool are just one City slip up away from being crowned English champions for the first time in a generation.

Liverpool already have a Champions League final against Tottenham Hotspur to look forward to. In that game, they will be favourites. In years gone by, that might have posed them a problem, given their inferiority complex. Under Klopp, however, Liverpool have eradicated that mindset.

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Vincent Kompany reminds us all of Man City’s narrative

After Manchester City’s crucial win over Leicester City on Monday night, a win which put Pep Guardiola’s side within touching distance of a successful Premier League title defence, a debate broke out on social media. It focused on what is widely perceived to be a bias from the mainstream media against City. Or rather, to be more accurate, towards Liverpool.

To say there is a bias, that journalists, reporters and broadcasters are actively rooting against City, is false. However, it’s true that Liverpool’s story has received more coverage this season. That is purely because as defending champions Man City’s tale isn’t as compelling as Liverpool’s, who are chasing a first league title in 29 years. Journalists are always biased towards a good story.

Vincent Kompany

However, with tears rolling down his cheeks having struck a thunderous winner against Leicester City, Vincent Kompany, City’s man of men as commentator Peter Drury labelled him, reminded us that the Abu Dhabi-owned side are also working on a narrative of their own.

By winning against Brighton on Sunday and then against Watford in the FA Cup final, Man City would become the first ever English team to win a domestic Treble. In any other season, that would be the defining narrative playing out in the mainstream media, on the back pages and in the news bulletins.

For Guardiola, it would be a crowning achievement. Not so long ago, many claimed that the former Barcelona and Bayern Munich boss would find things tougher in England. That he wouldn’t be able to dominant in the way he did in Germany and Spain. Guardiola’s struggles in his first season as City boss backed this theory up.

Since then, though, he has made a mockery of these suggestions. There might not be the romanticism to City’s story that there is about Liverpool’s, but Kompany’s emotion after his winner on Monday night served as a reminder to all that the Anfield side aren’t the only ones with an historic achievement on the line.

The sheer efficiency of Guardiola’s Man City side means the coverage of their success is somewhat more level-headed, but that doesn’t mean there is any less respect for them when placed alongside Liverpool. What City have done over the past two seasons has been unprecedented, but perhaps for a moment we should allow ourselves to get syrupy about their achievements just as Kompany did on Monday night.

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Liverpool should hijack Dortmund’s Thorgan Hazard deal

There’s just something about the name, it seems. In a summer set to be defined, in transfer market terms, by Eden Hazard and his expected move to Real Madrid from Chelsea, the Belgian isn’t the only member of his family to be on the move. Indeed, Eden’s younger brother Thorgan Hazard is also the subject of much speculation.

The 26-year-old admitted last week that he has agreed personal terms on a move to Borussia Dortmund, meaning the two clubs must now come to a financial agreement to make the deal official. That last step might be the most difficult one, though. Borussia Monchengladbach won’t be keen to sell their best player to one of their biggest rivals.

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Liverpool should make the most of this opportunity to hijack Dortmund’s deal for Hazard. The Belgian international might not be good enough to command a starting place in Jurgen Klopp’s team, but he would give the Reds the sort of depth they need.

Assuming Liverpool don’t lose one of either Sadio Mane or Mohamed Salah, Hazard would be a substitute at Anfield. But he would be more than that. Under Klopp, the Reds have made great progress over the past few years, particularly over the last two seasons. But they cannot afford to be complacent.

Manchester City will spend again this summer and so Liverpool must keep up. City already hold an advantage in the myriad of attacking options they boast. When Raheem Sterling is injured or is in need of a rest, they have Leroy Sane to step in. When David Silva is out, they have Bernardo Silva. And Riyad Mahrez.

Some competition for the likes of Roberto Firmino, Mane and Salah would be healthy, would help keep them sharp. If Liverpool are to miss out on the Premier League title this season, as looks likely at this moment, their development won’t yet be complete. They mustn’t rest in their progression.

With Klopp at the helm, Liverpool have acted boldly, spending money where it needed to be spent. When they needed a centre back, they signed Virgil Van Dijk. When they needed a goalkeeper, they signed Alisson Becker. Next season, they must broaden their attacking options and Hazard would fit the bill. His move to Dortmund hasn’t been rubber-stamped yet. There is still an opportunity for the Reds there.

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