Now that Manchester City have reached (and lost) the UEFA Champions League final — having come within 90 minutes of completing the project’s last remaining objective — where does Pep Guardiola’s side go from here?
What must they do to go that one step further next season and be crowned champions of Europe themselves?
First things first, Manchester City have some squad work to do if they are to defend and retain the Premier League title — forget about focusing solely on the Champions League — as Chelsea are already the champions of Europe, Liverpool will return their trio of stellar center backs, and 2nd-place finishers Manchester United might just do some decent business this summer as well. Simply put, Manchester City probably won’t win the title again if they’re only as good as they were this season.
That said, building a Premier League- and Champions League-winning squad do largely go hand in hand.
Manchester City more likely to sign Haaland or Kane now
Given not only the fact they lost Saturday’s final to Chelsea, but the manner in which they did so — failing to score, with just one shot on target and a paltry 0.4 xG — one highly likely (and obvious) outcome is that Sheikh Mansour snaps his fingers and one of Erling Haaland or Harry Kane simply appears at the Etihad Stadium out of thin air. Money is no object for the man with a reported net worth of $22 billion, and he’s proven that over his 13 years as the club’s owner (UEFA financial fair play issues notwithstanding).
If the likelihood of Manchester City signing one of the superstar strikers stood at, let’s just say, 50 percent before Saturday, it feels like that number is closer to 80 or 90 a day later.
So, which one should they sign?
Why Manchester City should sign Erling Haaland
He is 20 years old (turns 21 this summer), has just scored 57 goals (in 59 games) in a season and a half at Borussia Dortmund (after bagging 28 in 22 games at Red Bull Salzburg), appears to still be rapidly improving and has proven to be incredibly durable (just one injury which kept him out for more than one game at Dortmund) under a heavy workload that pretty well mirrors what he would encounter at Manchester City.
Did we mention he’s still getting better, and he hasn’t even worked under Guardiola (yet)? Seriously, the upside is tremendous — maybe even limitless.
Guardiola would, however, be forced to adjust the way his side attacks to get the same goal-scoring record out of Haaland. At 6-foot-4 and just under 200 pounds, it’s no wonder Haaland has enjoyed great health over the beginning of his career — he’s a physical specimen, the proverbial bowling ball — but that greatly influences his style of play. He’s powerful and pacy, direct and full steam ahead at all times. If you’re at all familiar with Guardiola’s teams, including the current Manchester City side, you know that’s not how they play.
Even still, it would only take the signing of one other dynamic attacker this summer to push Manchester City in that direction and help to settle Haaland in the Premier League. The thought of Haaland and Gabriel Jesus forming a modern-day big man-little man strike partnership — perhaps with three center backs, wing backs providing all of the attacking width and a fluid three-man midfield — is highly exciting from a neutral’s perspective and potentially terrifying from the standpoint of rooting for any other Premier League club.
Why Manchester City should sign Harry Kane
He is a ready-made fit for Guardiola’s tactical philosophy, has boatloads of Premier League experience and goals (7 straight seasons with 17 or more), just won the Golden Boot and assist title in the same season, scores goals across all competitions (7 straight seasons with 24 or more) and is more motivated to win trophies than perhaps any player available this summer.
Kane is the play-making center forward (with shades of a no. 10 to his game) that Haaland is certainly not, and likely never will be. Given that Guardiola’s teams have traditionally spread the goal-scoring responsibilities throughout the front seven players, Kane’s ability to drop into the midfield and pick out audacious passes (not the safe and simple square balls for which most target man opt) to create scoring chances for others likely makes him a dream player for Guardiola. Raheem Sterling, Riyad Mahrez, Phil Foden and Ferran Torres would all see their goals tally go through the roof by virtue of merely wearing the same shirt as Kane.
In that sense, signing Kane would improve more areas of the squad than just the no. 9, increasing the output of numerous other players and positions by signing just one player.
The obvious question mark with Kane, especially with talk of transfer fees north of $150 million, is his age (turns 28 this summer) and injury history (five injuries, including three to ankle ligaments, which each kept him out for two months or more). Is Guardiola willing to forego longer-term production and availability (Haaland) in exchange for richer immediate returns (Kane)?
The verdict: Kane or Haaland? Haaland or Kane?
Sign either one — seriously, they’re both exceptional — but just know that the one you don’t pick might well end up at Old Trafford instead.