London, United Kingdom | AFP | Rattled by a chastening first season in England, Pep Guardiola has gone back to the drawing board in an attempt to fashion Manchester City into Premier League champions.
Expectations were sky-high when Guardiola alighted in Manchester after years of being courted by City, but a title challenge failed to materialise and his side did not make a mark in any of the cup competitions.
They return to the fray this weekend having spent around £200 million ($261 million, 221.3 million euros) on players and Guardiola believes an exciting new team is taking shape.
“With all respect to the players, last season we were one of the oldest teams in the Premier League. We didn’t buy full-backs for five, six years,” said Guardiola.
“We decided last season we could change the team to make the team younger for the next four or five years.
“Danilo is 26, (Benjamin) Mendy is 23, Bernardo (Silva) is 22, Ederson is 23, so we bought players who are going to be stable for the next years.”
There were some promising signs last season — an opening salvo of 10 straight wins, a stunning Champions League victory over Barcelona — but City never found any consistent form.
Guardiola seemed unprepared for the rude physicality of English football and was derided for saying he was “not a coach for the tackles” after a one-sided 4-2 defeat at Leicester City.
City’s football was, occasionally, dazzling and they were only outscored by champions Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur, but finding an effective defensive configuration gave Guardiola a constant headache.
John Stones looked shaky following his big-money move from Everton and Guardiola’s dissatisfaction with his full-back options saw midfielders Fernandinho and Jesus Navas deployed in the wide defensive positions.
There should not be any shoehorning of players into unfamiliar roles this season after Guardiola signed three top-level full-backs — Kyle Walker, Benjamin Mendy and Danilo — at a combined cost of around £124 million.