The changing of the Premier League guard has finally arrived, when Manchester City’s defeat at Chelsea handed the title to Liverpool.
It brought an end to two and a bit years of City domination and 30 years of Liverpool patience, as the ribbons changed from sky blue to Merseyside red. An inevitable switch to dethrone Pep Guardiola’s Citizens, following back to back titles in an unstoppable period of dominance.
With Manchester City no longer the reigning Premier League champions, it is back to the drawing board for Guardiola. A complete rebuild is not vital, but change is certainly needed if he wants to bring the league title back to the Etihad Stadium.
That starts by investing in the defence.
City have conceded 33 goals in 32 games, the joint-fourth best record in the league. It's pretty handy, but compare that to this time last season, when the Citizens had shipped just 21 goals. In their league triumphs of 2018 and 2019, they conceded just 27 and 23 goals respectively, but this season has been a completely different story.
Poor defensive displays have cost Manchester City far too often this year, and that is exactly why the Premier League crown has slipped from their grasp, sitting 20 points off the top. While they have been unfortunate with injuries, a lack of cover and depth at the back is what came to haunt them.
The absence of one man in particular saw City’s defence crumble to catastrophic consequences.
Vincent Kompany left Manchester after 11 years last summer, bowing out with 12 trophies and 360 appearances to his name. His role in City’s defence was vital in their success, and his departure has been noticeable to say the least.
City are greatly missing Kompany, and not just his talent on the pitch.
The Belgian is one of the finest defenders English football has seen: an outstanding, hard-hitting centre-back who was unstoppable in his prime, at the heart of the Citizens’ defence and all four of their Premier League titles. He was a brilliant defender at the Etihad, and an integral part of the squad.
But Kompany was also City’s captain, their marvel on and off the pitch. His leadership and experience helped bring a squad of diverse nationalities, backgrounds and abilities together, as influential behind the scenes as he was when wearing the captain’s armband. His influence was unprecedented, and grossly underrated until he left for his native Belgium.
City’s mistake was not letting Kompany go – it was not finding a suitable heir to his throne.
David Silva took over as captain, but he has only played 64% of the Citizens’ games this season as he prepares to leave in a matter of weeks. Fernandinho has also worn the armband, but despite his experience and status in the squad, he has failed to fill the Belgian’s boots.
Before anything else, Manchester City must first find an apt replacement for Kompany. They will not be able to improve their defence by simply buying a host of world-class defenders - though that would be a welcome sight. They need to find a centre-back who has the leadership qualities to reinstate the spine in City’s defence, while also greatly strengthening the backline as a whole.
So, who could City sign?
Players like Sergio Ramos or Virgil van Dijk would be the dream, but neither are going to be pried away from Madrid or Liverpool respectively. Nathan Aké has also been mentioned as an option for Guardiola, though Chelsea are also interested in signing the Bournemouth centre-back – and he doesn't have the seniority of many other options.
However, City have been linked with talents in Serie A, with Napoli’s Kalidou Koulibaly and Inter’s Milan Škriniar thrown into contention. Either of them could be sound options to bolster up the defence, but would they be adequate replacements for Kompany? It is a difficult ask for both.
Manchester City have a big summer ahead, as they look to spend freely yet wisely to build up a new title challenge to Liverpool. Their defence definitely needs work and investment, but if they can bring in the right players, they can surely retain their title.
Kompany’s departure has cost them their crown this season, but all hope is not lost. All it could take is just one player, one world class centre-back to ascend to the Belgian’s throne, and City can restore their status as the kings of England.