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Keeping Haaland fit, getting more from Grealish & finding role for Phillips: The six questions Manchester City must answer after the World Cup break

15:00 GMT+3 21/12/2022
Guardiola-Grealish-Haaland split
The Premier League champions are currently sat second in the Premier League table, so how do they ensure their title defence is successful?

Manchester City's mid-season report card reads: good, but could do better. Erling Haaland has laughed off any doubts that he'd be able to adapt to the Premier League since arriving in England, and Pep Guardiola's side have produced some scintillating football at times.

Despite that, not everything has been rosy. Defeats to an out-of-form Liverpool and lowly Brentford have proved that they are far from invincible, while several big-money signings are yet to fulfil their potential.

That said, they are safely through to the last 16 of the Champions League and have a favourable draw against RB Leipzig to come early in 2023 as they finally aim to end their wait for European silverware.

So, as City prepare to make their return to action following the mid-season break for the World Cup, here are the key questions they need to answer over the coming months...

  • Erling Haaland Manchester City 2022-23

    How do City ensure Haaland stays fit?

    It's been a little while since he's been in action, so we may as well remind you: Erling Haaland is pretty good at football.

    Prior to the World Cup, the Norwegian phenom gobbled up goal records like Coco Pops, scoring a ridiculous 18 times in just 12 Premier League starts.

    However, his unbelievable start was sullied somewhat as he missed a series of games just before the mid-season pause through injury, and in his short career so far, Haaland has endured niggling fitness problems.

    Staving off those injuries this campaign will be at the top of City's to-do list. Aside from Haaland and Phil Foden, no player in the squad has managed more than three league goals so far.

    And in games where their offensive talisman did not start - Leicester away and Fulham at home - City only limped to victory. Additionally, a half-fit Haaland could not prevent his team slipping to a shock defeat against Brentford in their final game before the World Cup.

  • Gundogan

    Is Gundogan staying for another season?

    City usually do not mess around with contracts, especially when it comes to first-team players. Of the current starting XI, only captain Ilkay Gundogan is on a deal that is set to expire at the end of the season.

    Gundogan has been non-committal about renewing in the past, though he did hint that his own future would be dependent on Guardiola committing to the club.

    Now that has happened, the Germany midfielder could be tempted to extend his stay in Manchester. Saying that, there are plenty of other supposed suitors.

    Barcelona have been linked with Gundogan for some time, and they would not be the only ones interested should he decide to leave on a free transfer.

    Although this is in itself not a major issue - Gundogan has given so much to the club already - having the future of your skipper up in the air is never ideal, even at somewhere like City. Having everything decided before the run-in would be best for all parties.

  • Jack Grealish Manchester City 2022-23

    How can they increase Jack Grealish's numbers?

    After an underwhelming start to his City career, Jack Grealish has upped his game significantly this season.

    City have won every game that Grealish has started in 2022-23, with the former Aston Villa man's ability to hold onto the ball in tight areas helping the champions impose their signature control over matches.

    And yet, questions still remain over his attacking output. These queries are fair enough. Grealish is the most-expensive British footballer of all time, and it is not unreasonable to expect him to have more than seven goals and four assists at this stage in his City career.

    The second half of the season will be a big test of Grealish's character. By his own admission, he hates being on the bench, but he needs to produce more regularly to break into the City starting XI consistently.

  • Kalvin Phillips Manchester City 2022-23

    What exactly is Kalvin Phillips for?

    Kalvin Phillips scarcely got on the pitch for City prior to the World Cup due to a troubling shoulder injury.

    He recovered in time to make England's World Cup squad though, which means he could be - brace for cliché - like a new signing for Guardiola upon his return.

    But there is an issue. Right now, it's not entirely clear what role Phillips will serve in the City team. There's little chance of him displacing Rodri in the starting XI - the Spaniard has been among the best defensive midfielders on the planet in recent seasons - suggesting that he will be consigned to a backup role.

    Considering City spent £50 million to prise Phillips away from Leeds United, restricting him to a spectator seems a little pointless. Guardiola needs to get him settled into a rotational role at least.

  • Riyad Mahrez Manchester City 2022-23

    How can City get Riyad Mahrez firing again?

    Riyad Mahrez's stats for the 2022-23 season make for grim reading. The 2016 PFA Player of the Year has scored just once in four Premier League starts and five substitute appearances, after striking 11 times in only 15 starts last campaign.

    This isn't an issue with finishing either - Mahrez is performing about as well as his xG would suggest - he's simply not been as influential nor decisive in games as he has been in previous years.

    At 31, there might be an air of inevitability to his decline, and Foden's improved performances mean Mahrez's diminishing returns have not been a massive problem yet.

    However, it's a long old season, with City set to compete on multiple fronts right down to the wire once again. They're going to need all of their forwards ready to perform at a moment's notice, and, like Grealish, Mahrez needs to step it up after the World Cup break. Algeria's absence from Qatar should help in this regard.

  • Guardiola-Arteta split

    How do City beat Arsenal... twice?

    At the beginning of the season, City were widely tipped to waltz to another Premier League title, with Liverpool seen as their only genuine rivals.

    Few people foresaw just how well a rejuvenated Arsenal would begin the campaign, and at the time of writing, the Gunners are five points clear at the summit.

    To add some spice to the pot, the two teams are yet to square off this season...

    On February 15 - a rearranged fixture - Arsenal host Guardiola's charges. The return fixture is scheduled for April 26 at the Etihad Stadium, in what could prove to be a winner-takes-all Premier League title showdown.

    There's still a long way to go, of course, but no doubt the obsessive Guardiola will already be thinking up the best way to vanquish his former apprentice Mikel Arteta.