Ilkay Gundogan gone, Riyad Mahrez going and uncertainty around Kyle Walker and Bernardo Silva: Pep Guardiola has his work cut out rebuilding Man City's treble-winners

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City have already lost two stalwarts and could lose more in what has turned into a summer of upheaval at the Etihad Stadium

On Sunday, Manchester City paraded their three trophies in Tokyo and, after making a sloppy start against Yokohama F Marinos, soon rallied to leave with an emphatic 5-3 win. Erling Haaland got back among the goals with two strikes while Rodri, the hero of Istanbul, showed his appetite for scoring has not been sated as he landed a beautiful long-range effort.

After having just four training sessions since completing the Champions League final in Istanbul and some of their players (yes, we’re looking at you Jack Grealish) having the mother of all parties, it was not bad for their first pre-season outing.

But as they prepare to defend their treble and plot a record-breaking fourth consecutive English league title, City are going through a summer of upheaval. They have waved goodbye to Ilkay Gundogan while Riyad Mahrez is on his way to Saudi Arabia, leaving them without two of their most reliable attacking players of the Pep Guardiola era. And two more pillars of that sustained success could also be on their way, as Bernardo Silva and Kyle Walker consider their futures.

Only Mateo Kovacic has arrived so far and the club are still yet to agree a deal for Josko Gvardiol. Meanwhile, all of City’s rivals are strengthening. Guardiola’s side have been the dominant force in English football for the last six years, but that status is under threat and the Catalan coach faces a huge rebuilding task to preserve it.

  1. Difficult to replace 'prime Zidane' Gundogan

    Difficult to replace 'prime Zidane' Gundogan

    Gundogan’s departure to Barcelona was not exactly a surprise as his contract was about to expire and the midfielder had never hidden his desire for a change of scenery. He was also demanding a big salary to stay in Manchester, which contravened the club’s policy on contracts for players on the wrong side of 30. But even if his departure made sense for everyone, he leaves a giant hole that is far from easy to fill.

    Gundogan was capable of playing all over the midfield, making huge contributions in defence as well as attack. And he came into his own at the business end of each season. As Walker put it, Gundogan “turns into prime Zidane in the last couple of months”.

    Gundogan’s two goals on the final day of the 2021-22 season snatched the Premier League title from Liverpool’s hands, while last season he slayed Everton in the match which effectively secured the title. And who could forget what he did in the FA Cup final against Manchester United, scoring the fastest goal in the history of the final as well as getting the winner?

    Gundogan scored more than 10 goals in all competitions and contributed at least five assists in each of the last three seasons. Kovacic, who looks to be his most likely replacement, scored just six goals in five seasons and 221 games for Chelsea. It is also telling that Guardiola wanted to keep the German, saying on several occasions that he hoped the club and player could agree a new contract.

  2. Mahrez consistent and reliable

    Mahrez consistent and reliable

    Mahrez’s departure also suits City on one level. The club are about to bank £30 million ($38m) from their deal with Al Ahly, a solid transfer fee for a 32-year-old, especially one who was typically not involved in the biggest matches.

    Mahrez started only one of City’s seven Champions League knockout matches last season and was an unused substitute in the FA Cup final. And yet almost every time he was called upon, he delivered.

    The Algerian scored five goals and provided 10 assists in the Premier League last season, while he averaged a goal per game in the FA Cup. In one stretch of four league matches between April and May, he provided five assists.

    Even if his importance in crunch games was fading, he was a player City could always count on against lesser opponents, allowing Guardiola to rotate his squad and rest others in key stages of the season while still picking up maximum points.

    Mahrez ranked 11th in the City squad for minutes played in the Premier League, higher than John Stones, Nathan Ake, Julian Alvarez and Phil Foden. That consistency and reliability is far from easy to replace.

  3. Walker still top choice for specialist defending
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    Walker still top choice for specialist defending

    Walker is another veteran player who could be about to leave. He wants to move to Bayern Munich and, at 33, is even older than Gundogan and Mahrez. And he is entering the final year of his contract with City, meaning this is the club’s last chance to make any money on him. Once more, there is a compelling argument for City to part with him.

    The defender has a bizarre relationship with Guardiola. He was often left out of the team after the World Cup, and in April the coach broke a sacred rule of never criticising his players in public when he said Walker did not know how to play as an inverted full-back.

    Walker admitted that those words cut deep and he set about proving him wrong. And in the final six weeks of the season, the defender was one of City’s most important players. He carried out impeccable marking jobs against Vinicius Jr in both legs against Real Madrid and kept Marcus Rashford quiet in the FA Cup final. Only a back injury prevented him from playing in the Champions League final.

    Against Yokohama, Walker wore the captain’s armband and helped set up their first goal of the game, overlapping and getting to the byline to find Alvarez, who in turn teed up Stones. He still has plenty to offer the club and when it comes to one-on-one defending and racing back to put out fires, there are few players in Walker’s league.

  4. Fundamental Silva can't leave too

    Fundamental Silva can't leave too

    Then there is Bernardo Silva. Each summer the Portuguese is the subject of a transfer saga, and this year is no different. Paris Saint-Germain and Barcelona have expressed their desire to sign him, and there has also been interest from Saudi Arabian side Al Hilal.

    Barcelona is reported to be his No.1 destination, but the Catalan club’s deep financial troubles mean they are unlikely to be able to prise him from the Etihad Stadium. City are also desperate to keep hold of Silva, reportedly offering him a bumper new contract worth £300,000 ($385,000)-per-week and pricing him at £70m ($90m).

    And it is easy to see why. Silva is the player who knits City’s midfield together and can carry the ball all over the pitch without losing possession. He has been fundamental to the team’s success since he joined from Monaco in 2017, and City really cannot afford to see him follow Gundogan and Mahrez out the door.

  5. A quiet window for arrivals
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    A quiet window for arrivals

    While there has been plenty of speculation about who might leave City, there have been few murmurings about who might join, beyond the signing of Kovacic. The club’s No.1 transfer target is still Gvardiol, and City have still not agreed a fee with RB Leipzig for the Croatian centre-back, who could become the most expensive defender in the world.

    Even if City do sign the defender, they will still have money in the bank for more transfers, having cashed in around £45 million from academy players James Trafford, Shea Charles and Carlos Borges. And they would be advised to spend it, as their rivals have not been shy at all about splashing the cash to try and chase City down and end their recent hegemony.

  6. Rivals are building their armies
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    Rivals are building their armies

    Arsenal, who spent 248 days on top of the Premier League last season before being overtaken by a resurgent City, have shelled out over £200m ($257m) on beefing up their already impressive squad. Most notably, they beat City to the signature of Declan Rice, one of the best midfielders in the world and a player who can transform Mikel Arteta’s side from title contenders to title winners after becoming the most expensive British player of all time.

    Defender Jurrien Timber and the versatile Kai Havertz will also give Arteta the strength in depth which he lacked last season when the likes of Thomas Partey, William Saliba and Gabriel Jesus got injured for long periods.

    Chelsea have also strengthened well, getting the striker they lacked last season by signing Christopher Nkunku and hiring Mauricio Pochettino as manager. Liverpool have added a World Cup-winning midfielder in Alexis Mac Allister to their squad and a star playmaker in Dominik Szoboszlai.

    And on the other side of the city, United have finally got a forward-thinking goalkeeper by signing Andre Onana, who shone in the Champions League final against City, as well as landing Mason Mount. Then there’s Newcastle, who are looking to build on finishing fourth by spending in the region of £100 million ($128m) on Sandro Tonali and Harvey Barnes.

    Guardiola knows more than anyone how tough the Premier League is and he will be spending the rest of pre-season and the whole of the coming season wracking his brains to ensure his side stay on top. He may well end up leading City to that elusive fourth consecutive title, but it will be an almighty challenge after losing some of his most loyal and reliable servants.