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Gabriel Jesus and Raheem Sterling departures hint at how Manchester City will change this season

July 12, 2022

THERE wasn’t room for Erling Haaland and Gabriel Jesus in the same Manchester City squad, and there might not be room for Raheem Sterling either. The England international is widely expected to join Jesus in leaving the Premier League champions this summer with City hoping to rake in over £90m for the pair.

Jesus and Sterling were seemingly ready for a new challenge with the latter receiving less and less game time under Pep Guardiola. Nonetheless, the pair scored 28 times in all competitions for City last season. Guardiola needs Haaland to hit the ground running, and to avoid injury, to compensate for the goals that have just walked out of the Etihad Stadium.

What’s more, Jesus and Sterling’s exit hints at how Manchester City will change the way they play this season. It used to be the case that Guardiola looked for forward thrust and direct running in the wide areas. Jesus and Sterling offered this to such an extent that the cut-back and finish became a hallmark of City’s.

Now, though, Haaland will be the one to provide this forward thrust from a central position. The dynamic of the Manchester City attack will change as they accommodate the Norwegian striker. This explains why Guardiola was so willing to let Jesus and Sterling leave the club without much of a fight.

It will be up to the likes of Phil Foden and Jack Grealish to play a more intricate game around Haaland. They will be excepted to link up with the Norwegian. The knock-on effect could be rather profound on Manchester City’s overall game. Guardiola likes his team to play through the middle, but a lack of width could make them a more predictable outfit.

This could explain why City are reportedly in the market for a new left back – they will need an option there who is more likely to hug the touchline than either Joao Cancelo or Oleksandr Zinchenko. Marc Cucurella has been linked with a move to the Premier League champions and the Brighton full back would certainly offer a different dimension.

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Haaland will have to prove that he can play in a team that dominates the ball and plays so high up the pitch. At Borussia Dortmund, the Norwegian frequently had space to burst into on the break, but Manchester City play in a different way. It might take some time for Haaland to acclimatise to his new surroundings, but Guardiola is already taking measures to bed in his new number nine.

Of course, the best teams always seek to evolve their game. Liverpool are in the process of an ideological transition under Jurgen Klopp, as illustrated by the summer capture of Darwin Nunez and departure of Sadio Mane, and so Manchester City are only following the lead of their closest rivals. They cannot afford to stand still.

Guardiola might have to watch on as Jesus and Sterling reach another level for their new clubs. Arsenal want Jesus to be their next great number nine while Sterling should be a good fit for Thomas Tuchel’s Chelsea system. It’s entirely possible that both players will hit 20 goals in all competitions next season. Their best years might be ahead of them.

But Manchester City have made the bet that this summer’s changes in personnel and approach will make them a stronger unit. Haaland is arguably the most talented centre forward of his generation, but Guardiola wants the 21-year-old to bring the most out of the players around him, including Foden and Grealish. Change isn’t always for the better, but City are counting on it being so.