Having won the Treble by dropping full-backs from his starting XI, maybe Pep Guardiola is planning to defend Manchester City’s titles by getting rid of wingers as well.
No tactical innovation can be dismissed with the world’s best coach, and there is a feeling that the Blues still need at least one more signing in this transfer window. However, interest in West Ham midfielder Lucas Paqueta throws up a number of questions about the strategy of the squad for this season in a summer that has left fans scratching their heads.
Is Paqueta really similar in value to the £90m City offered for Declan Rice? And if he is, would it not have made more sense to pursue that interest while they were talking to West Ham about Rice?
Do City need another No.8 given they have already replaced Ilkay Gundogan with Mateo Kovacic, and are increasingly confident that Bernardo Silva will stay for another season? What does it say for the futures of Kalvin Phillips, James McAtee and Phil Foden if the coaching staff think they do?
McAtee can show what he is worth away from the Etihad on loan if there is no path to the first team under Guardiola this year, with no shortage of offers; Phillips, meanwhile, can notionally be Rodri’s back-up even if Kovacic looked better than him in that role in pre-season.
It is Foden that will most concern fans. Everyone has been waiting for the homegrown product to fulfil his potential under a manager that has fiercely protected him since introducing him to the first-team squad six years ago, and this season was set to be the one where he finally made the transition to midfield that player, coach and the world were waiting for.
The move was signposted in the Champions League final when Foden replaced the injured Kevin De Bruyne in that position and he has been used there again in pre-season, notably when he came on in the Community Shield and made City’s goal with a terrific spin on the ball that allowed a driving run through midfield. Finally, a player labelled the best youngster he has ever worked with by Guardiola and someone who outclassed Erling Haaland two years ago in the Champions League appeared set for his big opportunity.
“I’d be in a role where there’s a lot more to my game, I’d be able to show people a lot more of what I can do,” Foden said this summer about the potential shift. “I’d be on the ball more, always involved.
A red flag came on Friday though when the manager pointed out the defensive deficiencies Foden still has in that role, while starting the Arsenal game on the bench was another. City exploring a deal for Paqueta is the biggest flag yet that Foden’s wait for a central role may not be over.
Signing Paqueta, or a similar player, would seemingly mean that Silva and Foden instead add to the competition out wide with Jack Grealish. That would be a role they have both shown before they can excel in, and so in that sense the new signing would strengthen the team and the squad.
But when you have a talent like Foden, playing to his strengths may be more effective than using him to play to the strengths of others.
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