They won the league by 12 points last season, recorded a fourth successive League Cup triumph, reached the semi-finals of the FA Cup, and fell just short of a first ever Champions League win. Manchester City’s return in 2020-21 was, by any club’s reckoning, more than decent.
But their insistence on aiming for the very best this summer, buying Jack Grealish from Aston Villa for £100m and leading the chase for England captain Harry Kane, means that anything less than the same again must be considered a huge disappointment.
Pep Guardiola takes his side to Wembley on Saturday for the FA Community Shield against Leicester City knowing it could be the first of more than 60 games this season, but he will not be daunted given the quality of players he has available. Indeed, he is looking to offload stars now that Grealish is through the door and their pursuit of Kane is hotting up, with an admission on Friday that Bernardo Silva will be allowed to leave the Etihad.
“There’s not just Bernardo,” Guardiola told reporters. “Two or three or four players want to leave, but they are our players under contract and when is some offer, we are open to discussing it.
“If they want to leave they know the door is open because we don’t want anyone here who is dissatisfied, but they have to bring someone [who wants them].”
That revelation comes as he admitted interest in Kane, who has refused to return to training at Tottenham Hotspur so far amid reports of a potential £150m from City for his services.
“He’s a player for Tottenham Hotspur, and if Tottenham don’t want to negotiate, it’s finished,” admitted Pep. “If they’re open to negotiate, I think not [only] Man City, many clubs in the world will want to try to sign him. We are not an exception, but it depends on Tottenham.
“It’s different from Jack, he had a release clause. Harry Kane is an extraordinary striker, no doubt about that, of course we’re very interested in him, but he’s a Tottenham player and if they don’t want to negotiate there’s nothing more to say.”
That would seem to be an indication that City will do what they can to get the Golden Boot winner through the door, but regardless of whether Kane does eventually arrive the Cityzens are primed to lead the pack again this term. As City keep on spending regardless of the new parameters brought about by Covid-19, other clubs are largely taking more tentative steps in the market.
While Liverpool have been quiet in the market, Manchester United have added Jadon Sancho and are about to unveil Raphael Varane, and Chelsea are leaving it late to make a move for Romelu Lukaku, City have built on a position of strength already and could be on the verge of breaking the British transfer record for a second time in a matter of days.
Guardiola used to be considered a short-term prospect as a manager, but at City he has kept them winning for the majority of his five-year reign so far and they only look set to get stronger. With Phil Foden increasingly becoming a key part of their lineup, Raheem Sterling, John Stones and Kyle Walker all being boosted by a successful summer with England, Rodri and Ruben Dias another season on in their lives in Manchester and then Grealish and possibly Kane being added to the mix, there appears little chance of the rest keeping pace with City for too long this season.
Leicester and Brendan Rodgers will be the first to try to bring them down, but there will be no shame for anyone who loses to the champions this season. With their star-studded squad which only gets better, there is no excuse not for them to succeed in 2021-22.