Manchester City’s chances of winning the Premier League title this season are now slim to none. They’ve suffered three straight league defeats for the first time since November 2008 and haven’t won back-to-back matches since mid-October.
They may have a trophy in the bag already, but their season has been hugely underwhelming. They cannot seem to create any momentum, despite having the best squad in the division.
It’s all looking like a rather disappointing end to a season that started so brightly, with five wins in the first five games and no goals conceded.
There are a number of areas in the City squad in need of surgery, none more so than midfield, where their options are limited in both number and quality.
Manager Manuel Pellegrini will leave in the summer, replaced by Pep Guardiola, a man whose love of midfielders is clear. Expect an overhaul of their options in the summer.
As reported by James Robson in the Manchester Evening News, Guardiola said:
I love the midfield players. I would like to have a thousand midfield players in my squad, in my team because I believe the midfield players are intelligent understand the game.
They understand back and they understand forward.
You can win the games with good defenders and good strikers, but to play good, you need midfield players.
Guardiola will want to add midfielders to the squad, the kind who cherish the ball and fit within the paradigm of how he feels the game should be played.
But between now and the end of the season, what is Manuel Pellegrini’s best midfield?
Fabian Delph’s injury has reduced the Chilean’s ability to rotate his options. Delph impressed before his setback in February. It’s left Pellegrini with Fernando, Fernandinho and Yaya Toure as his only central options.
It leaves him with a straightforward choice: Does he name all three, or does he sacrifice Fernando in favour of a more attacking side?
The answer, really, depends on the opposition. Fernando showed again in the game against Dynamo Kiev recently, just as he did in Seville in November, that the protection he brings is vital in away matches.
He's a limited player. He lacks mobility, and his passing too often lets him down. Guardiola is very likely to expect an upgrade. But, for now, his defensive capabilities make him a first-choice option. His presence allows others, most notably Toure, to concentrate on going forward, alleviating their defensive duties.
Toure, 32, is a player who now divides opinion, yet he is quite rightly a first-choice pick for City at present. He is a fading force, unable to influence matches in the way he used to, but his passing accuracy remains unfathomably high, and he can still produce moments of individual brilliance that few in City’s squad can.
Whether he remains a part of City's first team under Guardiola is open to debate. The 45-year-old has already sold him when the pair worked together at Barcelona, and some have suggested the Ivorian's work rate simply isn't good enough for a Guardiola side, but used wisely, he can still have some influence.
With Fernando in the team, Toure can be effective. His display in the 2016 Capital One Cup final was evidence of that.
And Fernandinho provides a balance between the two. He gets forward with far more quality than Fernando but offers stamina and work rate that Toure can no longer match. He's been City's best outfield player this season.
Those three, at present, are City's best central midfield options. At their best, there's enough defensive capability, passing ability and attacking desire to see them through. Pellegrini sometimes opts for a two-man midfield of Fernandinho and Toure, but too often that looks too open.
Expect a significant overhaul this summer when Guardiola looks to make his mark on the league.
Rob Pollard is Bleacher Report's lead Manchester City correspondent and will be following the club from a Manchester base throughout the 2015/16 season. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Follow him on Twitter @RobPollard.
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