The 2017/18 season is set to be one of the most crucial campaigns in the recent history of Manchester City, as it could prove to be make or break for the success of the Pep Guardiola era in Eastlands.
The Catalan coach certainly doesn’t seem to be messing around as he nears breaking the £200million barrier and axing a number of familiar faces from The Citizens, but it does seem that redemption for Guardiola and his disappointing debut season would only be lifting the Premier League come next May.
Not what he would have hoped for
Guardiola’s arrival had been a long time coming for City having announced his appointment in February of last year, the fans knew what they were getting having revolutionised football with his time at Barcelona and Bayern Munich.
Fans were hoping that something similar on the horizon for themselves and push City that one step further to become of the elite clubs on the planet, and Guardiola looked to hit the ground running with his dealings in the transfer window.
City spent upwards of £163m in the summer window to mould his own side, with the likes of; John Stones, Leroy Sané, İlkay Gündoğan, Nolito and Claudio Bravo slotting into his first team. He proved just as ruthless in the departures from the Sky Bues with both Stevan Jovetić and Edin Džeko both departing for Italy.
Despite a shaky start winning just winning one of their pre-season matches, but that didn’t seem to faze them as they won their first ten games which included a passage into the Champions League group stages with a two-leg win over Steaua București and a win over Swansea City in the EFL Cup.
Like any side they went through a tough patch during the Christmas period suffering four defeats in eight matches throughout December and January, form was back on track losing just the once between January and the end of the season but a number of draws saw them slip into third.
Guardiola has been one of the most successful managers in the Champions League in recent years, but even he faced a tough task when City were drawn against Celtic, Borussia Mönchengladbach and former club Barcelona.
The return clash with the Catalan giants was one of the most historic nights in the club’s European history as they came out 3-1 victors, but that win didn’t seem them kick on as they finished their group stint with two 1-1 draws but they had done enough to pass into the last 16.
City came up against one of Europe’s brightest young sides in Monaco in the last 16 and the tie didn’t disappoint as they played out a thrilling 5-3 victory in the first leg. It was all to play for as they headed to the French coast, but City were blown away as Monaco ran out winners on away goals which saw them go out without a real fight.
The FA Cup was arguably City’s biggest success of the season as they swept past; West Ham, Crystal Palace, Huddersfield and Middlesbrough on the way to the semi-finals without really breaking a sweat. They took on Arsenal under the Wembley arch and once again it proved to be a thrilling contest, Sergio Agüero looked to have secured their place in the final before Nacho Monreal took it to extra-time. It was a City target that dumped them out at the penultimate hurdle, as Alexis Sánchez’s extra-time strike made it certain that Guardiola would have his first season as a manager without a trophy.
The newly-branded EFL Cup could have proved a great opportunity for Guardiola to assert himself on the English game with a trophy, they swept past Swansea but their journey ended in the fourth round as his old foe José Mourinho got one over on him with his Manchester United side who went on to lift the trophy.
Flexing the financial muscles
The season had barely finished before City had dived into the transfer window to prepare his side for battle in the next campaign, the proceedings did start with a mass clear-out which saw a number of familiar faces exiting the Etihad.
Bacary Sagna, Gaël Clichy, Willy Caballero and Jesús Navas all left the club on free transfers after their contracts had come to an end, while Pablo Zabaleta, Joe Hart, Alexsandar Kolarov, Fernando, Nolito, Aaron Mooy, Enes Ünal and Kelechi Iheanacho all leaving either on a temporary or permanent basis.
That amount of departures certainly meant that Guardiola needed to flex his financial muscles and he has done that thus far, setting the ball rolling back in May as they secured the transfer of Bernardo Silva from Monaco.
This summer has all been about records as Paris Saint-Germain eclipsed the world-record transfer with the £198m signing of Neymar, but City have been having their own competition with themselves as they have smashed three world records.
The first record came in the form of a goalkeeper signing Benfica’s Ederson for £36m, it snowballed from there as the broke the defensive record breaking the £50m mark for the services of Kyle Walker.
It certainly proved to be a summer of full-backs for Guardiola as he looked to solidify on both the left and right-hand sides, Guardiola then brought in the utility man of Danilo before smashing their own record with Benjamin Mendy coming in.
Who is going to make that difference?
With so much quality at Guardiola's disposal it is very difficult to pick individuals that will shine amongst the rest throughout the whole season, however it does look like Kevin De Bruyne could be in for a career-defying season after good performances going under the radar slightly since his arrival back in England.
That certainly doesn't mean that the Belgian hasn't received praise for his efforts since coming back to the Premier League from Wolfsburg in the 2015/16 season, but it does seem that his excellence has always been trumped. A good example would have been De Bruyne finishing top of the Premier League assists table last season with 18, but the goals of Agüero took most of the lime light.
However it does seem that De Bruyne is ready to go one further in this campaign and has had a storming start in pre-season already providing a tonne of killer passes which have split numerous defences, if the 26-year-old can keep that form consistently throughout the ten months of the season we could see another Belgian crowned as the player of the year.
Football down its bare bones is a goals business and City will have that in abundance with the partnership of Agüero and Gabriel Jesus, the Argentine once again had a great season breaking the 20-goal barrier for the fourth consecutive and his fifth in his six seasons in Eastlands.
The total is even more impressive considering the 29-year-old was dropped by Guardiola for a fair amount of games in favour of Jesus who hit the ground running in the English top-flight, but injury brought an end to the young Brazilian's season before it had really begun. Guardiola does seem to trying and establish the idea of playing the two up top, and if both can maintain their fitness it copuld prove to be a title-winning combination.
Going to go the distance?
City fans can expect yet another season of excellent football ahead in the 2017/18 campaign, with all the quality that they already had and what they have brought in thus far it would be difficult to see another scenario arising. It is difficult to predict anything other than City winning the title having spent all that money and the pressure to do so will certainly not only be on the players but on Guardiola to deliver the title back to the Etihad.
In terms of cups it does seem like that either the League Cup or FA Cup could easily be in the grasp of the clubs, the Champions League could be another matter however depending on the draw they receive but they have reached the semi-final with a significantly weaker side.
However it does seem that the focus will be on the domestic league, and Guardiola will be desperate to add another league title to already illustrious trophy cabinet and prove to the doubters that his first season in England was nothing more than a rare blip.