Premier League 2023-24 preview No 13: Manchester City

<span>Photograph: Tom Jenkins/The Guardian</span>
Photograph: Tom Jenkins/The Guardian

Guardian writers’ predicted position: 1st (NB: this is not necessarily Jamie Jackson’s prediction but the average of our writers’ tips)

Last season’s position: 1st


As the favourites to be champions again, for a record fourth successive season, attrition may be their greatest foe rather than Arsenal, Manchester United, Liverpool, Newcastle et al. Pep Guardiola identified Jude Bellingham as his next “fantasy footballer”, to follow David Silva (departed) and Kevin De Bruyne (still in the role), but the youngster joined Real Madrid and will the Belgian’s advancing years – he is 32 – cause more fragility (he was forced off in the Champions League final) and a waning of his artistry? If Bernardo Silva follows Ilkay Gündogan’s exit then Guardiola will, surely, have to move to replace a footballer who is a kind of mini De Bruyne.

The pre-season tour of Asia brought a 5-3 win over Yokohama Marinos and a 2-1 victory over Bayern Munich in Japan and a surprise 2-1 loss to Atlético Madrid in Seoul, which was followed by the defeat on penalties by Arsenal in the Community Shield. The real action starts on Friday when Guardiola takes his side to Burnley, where Vincent Kompany will hope to give his former manager the sourest start to the Premier League campaign with what would be an unlikely win over the team he captained so successfully that the club built a statue of him.

Five days later, City are in Athens to take on Sevilla to try to add the Uefa Super Cup to the Premier League, FA Cup and European Cup claimed in the past 12 months. Expect Guardiola to do everything he can to ensure the Spaniards are defeated.


The manager

After seven years in charge Pep Guardiola still finds fresh ways to motivate the squad and himself. The latter is key and he will be smart enough to know when his fires begin dimming. Guardiola sees himself in east Manchester for two more seasons and after last term’s treble he may use the tilt at more history – the chance to be title-winners for a fourth year in a row – as his driver. Expect him to draw on more quotidian ploys: last year these included the harnessing of Rico Lewis’s vibrant talent to refresh his seasoned professionals, and January’s “happy flowers” attack on his team after they came from behind to beat Tottenham.

Leading the shirt sales

The goal plunderer supreme Erling Haaland is an obvious candidate, as would have been the captain of the treble winners but Gündogan is gone. How about, then, the man whose strike claimed the Champions League and sealed immortality for the club – Rodri? The Spaniard steered the winner home beyond Internazionale’s Andre Onana in trademark precise fashion and now City require a new leader he is surely a favourite to succeed Gündogan.

Folk hero

Jack Grealish – who else? Cheeky, irrepressible, adores a party, and was a major factor in the Premier League, Champions League, and FA Cup glory. The sight of Grealish, “curtains” haircut pinned up, aggressively springing in from his left-side berth has become iconic. Grealish’s 2022-23 campaign was a victory of self-belief after a patchy debut season – and for Guardiola whose backing of him reaped the hoped-for dividend – and made the 27-year-old ever more adored by the City faithful.


One to watch

Kalvin Phillips will hope to be this campaign’s Grealish after a miserable debut season when he did not start a Premier League game until the 38th and last, made only 12 appearances in the competition, and was publicly upbraided by Guardiola for being overweight. Guardiola’s statement that Phillips’s lack of match-time derived from an inferiority with the ball in “small spaces” was as scathing a criticism as a midfielder can receive but the player is intent on fighting to convince his manager.