Why the Time Has Come for Manchester City to Find Alternatives to Jesus Navas

Rob Pollard@@RobPollard_Featured ColumnistMay 12, 2016

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - MAY 08:  Jesus Navas of Manchester City holds off Aaron Ramsey of Arsenal during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester City and Arsenal at the Etihad Stadium on May 8, 2016 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
Alex Livesey/Getty Images

At the beginning of the season, Jesus Navas was becoming a target for disgruntled Manchester City fans who felt he lacked the quality needed to be a first-team regular.

Their expectations have increased in recent years, and a FIFA World Cup-winning winger is no longer a guaranteed starter and is certainly not guaranteed to impress the fans. They want the very best and are desperate to compete with Europe’s elite, and Navas, they felt, was indicative of their shortcomings.

Fast-forward a few months and there are far fewer audible complaints. Navas, although far from perfect, has shown over the course of the season he is worth his place in the City squad, with his pace down the right and his defensive work rate enough to win round many of the dissenters.

So many of his team-mates have fallen below the standard expected this season, leaving Navas as one of the few players to excel.

He is a genuinely different option from the vast majority of City’s other attacking players. Whereas the likes of David Silva, Kevin De Bruyne, Samir Nasri and Kelechi Iheanacho are focused on intricate passing and flexible positioning, Navas is all about directness.

He runs in straight lines, sticks out wide and tries to beat players on the outside. He may not be the finest exponent of wing play, but he’s the only one in the City squad who brings genuine width.

It means he provides a different option, which is why Manuel Pellegrini invariably has found a way of getting him on the pitch, either as a starter or an impact sub.

A mix of styles is important. Predictability can kill a side. Just ask Roberto Mancini, whose final year at City was undermined by the lack of a Plan B.

Manchester City's Spanish midfielder Jesus Navas (L) vies with Real Madrid's midfielder Isco during the UEFA Champions League semi-final second leg football match Real Madrid CF vs Manchester City FC at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium in Madrid, on May 4, 2
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However, there are clear limitations to Navas’ game. His small, lightweight frame means he lacks a physical presence at times, even if his hard work makes up for much of his shortfall.

He can often be somewhat two-dimensional, with the same run-down-the-outside-and-check-back routine frustrating to many. And his deliveries are too often misplaced, although, with City playing without a target man and bereft of players who make a run to the near post, he has a difficult task finding a team-mate. A winger needs a decent target to hit, otherwise it’s near impossible to create chances.

Back in September, he played against West Ham United and attempted 18 crosses, only two of which found a Blue shirt. The most important part of his game had broken down, and he was widely criticised. He's improved since then, but a feeling remains City need better quality balls into the box from wide areas.

With Pep Guardiola set to arrive at City this summer, expectations at the Etihad Stadium have soared once more, and many are expecting an overhaul of the squad. City have failed in the Premier League this season, nowhere near winning the title despite the superiority of their squad. Clearly, changes are needed.

But how many can a manager realistically make in one summer? How many departures can be sanctioned and sold at a fair price? The scale of the changes may not be at the level some are predicting.

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - APRIL 26: MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - APRIL 26: Jesus Navas of Manchester City during the UEFA Champions League Semi Final first leg match between Manchester City FC and Real Madrid at the Etihad Stadium on April 26, 2016 in Manchester, Un
Matthew Ashton - AMA/Getty Images

The defence is perhaps in most need of attention, with ageing full-backs and underperforming centre-backs leaving them looking vulnerable. Guardiola will need to strengthen them defensively to stand any chance of success next season.

The Spaniard also loves midfielders, the kind who enjoy possession and look to pass the ball quickly and effectively. City aren’t ideally set up to play the Guardiola way, and signing midfielders that fit his image will be key to implementing the style he favours.

All of which means Navas may end up being safe. The fact he offers a different dynamic and the fact there are more pressing concerns in the squad could see him play a role in the Guardiola era.

His role, however, will surely be reduced. He’s played 51 games this season—only Joe Hart has made more Premier League appearances for City than Navas during the campaign.

The 30-year-old is an excellent squad player and a focused professional who carries out instructions dutifully, but he lacks the kind of world-class attributes a squad with the ambitions City have requires.

He's managed seven Premier League assists, behind only Kevin De Bruyne (nine) and David Silva (11), but his goalscoring continues to prove a problem. He missed three one-on-one chances in the early stages of the season, which appeared to adversely affect his confidence.

He has just one goal this campaign—remarkably, a right-foot finish in the Capital One Cup semi-final first-leg defeat at Everton, which proved to be crucial in ensuring their passage to the final.

They need to evolve and become less reliant on him. Navas is a decent player, but City want spectacular.

The new phase at the club, led by Guardiola, feels like a completely fresh start—the end of the Mancini-Pellegrini era. Many of the players that have been central to their success in recent seasons are on the decline, with a new core of world-class talent required to allow City to take the step up into Europe's elite category of teams.

This summer will be crucial. The club will unveil Guardiola in July before embarking on a tour of China to prepare their squad for the new season and grow their name in a huge untapped football market. Unveiling new players will help create a buzz on the tour, and there will be plenty in the City squad looking over their shoulder.

But Navas has surely done enough to be involved on some level, at least. The intensity with which the squad works will increase, but Navas has never shirked a challenge in his life. This, of course, is a player who has overcome debilitating homesickness to forge a successful career abroad.

He's a manager's dream—a hard worker, a complete professional. Guardiola, a man known for his diligence and focus, is likely to appreciate the role he plays.

Don't expect him to play as often, but it would hardly be a surprise if he remained a part of the squad.

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.