Everybody looks to see which players are present and which are absent when Manchester City releases photos from a training session.
This week, manager Pep Guardiola, who has returned to health and to Manchester following back surgery, was the returning figure that most fans were excited to see. Juanma Lillo led City to six important points against Sheffield United and Fulham in Guardiola’s absence from the sidelines, but Guardiola continued to have a significant role in the team’s preparation and game-day strategy.
Guardiola will be trying to make up for lost time now that he’s back, especially by getting to know his two new acquisitions. City will play seven games in 23 days, including one in Newcastle for the Carabao Cup, two trips to London, and one to Germany.
Guardiola’s absence has also led to a number of player-related events, including two additional injury concerns, Gareth Southgate’s remarks regarding Phil Foden’s status, and some strong showings from periphery players. Cole Palmer has entirely quit the team.
Choose a midfield.
Prior to the break, the midfield appeared to be very stable, with Mateo Kovacic and Rodri filling in for Kevin De Bruyne when he wasn’t available, Julian Alvarez serving as the number 10, and Phil Foden or Bernardo Silva sliding in from the right to create a dual number ten system.
However, Kovacic did not participate in the match while on international duty and complained of a slight ailment; according to Croatian media, he may need to sit out for a short period of time. Alvarez will be returning from South America, where Argentina played in Bolivia at a high altitude, and Foden might be required on the left due to Jack Grealish’s injury concerns.
So with a few players doubtful, and others maybe needing a little bit more time to readjust from the break, Guardiola’s first port of call will be to pick a midfield that can go to West Ham and help City win.
Fix the Foden conundrum
Gareth Southgate said there “must be a reason” why Phil Foden doesn’t play there for City, and Guardiola will likely be asked to address that statement on Foden’s suitability at the top of the midfield. Although the remarks were a little off-base, Guardiola has also avoided using Foden for extended periods of time as a pure midfielder.
Even when Foden starred behind Erling Haaland against Newcastle and Fulham, he was drifting in from the right and depending on Kyle Walker to provide the entire right side breadth.
Foden may have a chance to play in the centre if Mateo Kovacic issues are resolved, or Guardiola may decide the right-wing position is more effective right now. When Bernardo and Foden compete for the same position at the beginning of the season, it becomes a challenge to incorporate Bernardo Silva into the same system.
Work with new signings
On his debut against Fulham, Jeremy Doku showed flashes of brilliance, but had yet to train with Guardiola before this week. He was named Man of the Match for Belgium before the break, and if Jack Grealish is still absent, he would likely hold his spot on the left wing.
Doku will need to have his flair combined with a game-management and possession-based strategy, which might take some players longer to master than others. How quickly Doku integrates into the City system will depend on how quickly Guardiola gets his point over.
After missing out on getting called up for Portugal, Matheus Nunes, a deadline-day signing from Wolves, has had a fortnight to prepare. Nunes might play in the upcoming weeks if City is lacking players in the midfield.
Participate fringe players
City has a demanding schedule that includes two games every week, maybe through the end of the year. All of their little squad members, including the new additions, must be available.
With a deft assist for Erling Haaland, Sergio Gomez looked sharp off the bench on the wing against Fulham. Although Gareth Southgate once more cautioned Kalvin Phillips that his lack of playing time at City was “less than ideal” after the game, he played the full 90 minutes for England against Scotland and looked respectable.
It will be necessary for players like Phillips, Gomez, Matheus Nunes, Jeremy Doku, and Rico Lewis to contribute and be prepared to act when necessary.