Manchester City are said to have the strongest squad in the Premier League, but it’s become increasingly clear in recent weeks, as their involvement in multiple cup competitions stretched their resources, that they rely too heavily on a core of players.
When one or more of Vincent Kompany, Pablo Zabaleta, Yaya Toure, Fernandinho, David Silva, Samir Nasri or Sergio Aguero are absent, they can often struggle. Ambitions of dominating the English game and regularly entering the later stages of the Champions League won’t be realised until they have depth in every department.
Most urgent are defensive reinforcements, and that is surely where Txiki Begiristain and Manuel Pellegrini will be focusing their efforts during the summer transfer window, with a left-back and centre-back their absolute priorities.
Despite obvious improvements in the attacking side of Aleksandar Kolarov’s game, he still struggles defensively, often out of tune with the rest of his defence and beaten too easily in one-on-one situations.
Add to that the drop in Gael Clichy’s performance level, and the need for some reconstruction at left-back becomes all the more obvious. Clichy was excellent last season, totally deserving of the new deal he was offered in the summer, but under Pellegrini, unlike the majority of the other players the squad who have improved under the Chilean, his form has plummeted.
He appears to have a lost a yard of pace, can sometimes look nervous and timid defensively and no longer contributes as readily going forward. He still shows flashes of brilliance here and there, but the consistency he displayed last season has deserted him.
Luke Shaw appears the most obvious replacement, particularly given his status as “homegrown” player, and, according to David McDonnell in the Mirror, City could be preparing a bid when the transfer window reopens.
The 18-year-old has already established himself as a regular for Southampton and earned a call-up to the England squad in February as recognition for a series of excellent displays. He would, however, cost around £30 million, a huge fee given his relative inexperience. Chelsea, Shaw's boyhood club, are likely to compete with City for his signature, per the Mirror's John Cross.
City face similar problems at centre-half. Martin Demichelis is clearly a stopgap player, filling a void until a long-term replacement can be sought, with City still in desperate need of a top-drawer partner for Kompany.
With high-quality centre-backs seemingly at a premium, and with Manchester United and Barcelona also in the market for one come the end of the season, City will need to be well-prepared, just as they were last summer, if they are to land a player of the requisite quality. Real Madrid’s Pepe or Porto’s Eliaquim Mangala would both fit the bill, as would Mats Hummels or Neven Subotic of Borussia Dortmund.
And in midfield, there’s little doubt that some cover for Yaya Toure and Fernandinho is required, given how heavily they have been relied on this season.
City thought they’d done a deal to sign Fernando from Porto in January, only to pull out at the last minute. A renewed bid could happen at some stage, despite him signing a new contract in February. William Carvalho, the highly rated Sporting Lisbon player, is another option.
City have shown this season they have a core of world-class players who, with the right additions alongside them, would make an exceptional squad. A defensive shakeup looks set to happen, and with one or two clever moves elsewhere, City should look even stronger next season as their progression continues.
Rob Pollard is Bleacher Report's lead Manchester City correspondent and will be following the club from a Manchester base throughout the 2013-14 season. Follow him on Twitter here: @RobPollard_.