MADRID/MANCHESTER: Pep Guardiola was always expected to want to rebuild Manchester City in his own footballing image once he said goodbye to Bavaria and headed for the rainy north-west of England to succeed Manuel Pellegrini. When he studies videos of City’s abject defeat by Real in Madrid he may come to the conclusion that the rebuilding task is much greater than he thought.
City lost only 1-0 in the Estadio Bernabeu in their first semi-final in the Champions League. But it might have been more, despite a late flurry. City contributed only one shot on target which was hardly sufficient for a team who needed at least one away goal after having been held goalless at home.
In some ways it is simpler to pick out the players Guardiola should want to keep rather than run through a catalogue of highly-paid superstars he might want to see heading through the revolving door as he arrives on his first formal day in charge.
Sergio Aguero remains a world-class striker but he cannot realise all his talent without supporting players able to feed him the ball. To this extent, City were badly handicapped in Spain by the absence of injured David Silva. Their partnership is an important one.
Kevin De Bruyne has enjoyed an outstanding season despite a significant absence through injury early this year. Again, like Aguero, his talents can shine consistently only if he has midfield partners able to retrieve the ball and retain it so he had a platform on which to work.
Samir Nasri can do that and his lengthy injury absence has proved significant. He was missing in the Estadio Bernabeu because Pellegrini had not expected him to regain fitness so soon and had omitted him from the squad City registered with UEFA for the knockout stages.
Further back Joe Hart should be unchallenged in goal. However speculation about his future has been raised by Guardiola’s reported interest in Marc-Andre ter’Stegen. Guardiola is not considered a fan of Hart’s conservative style of goalkeeping; he wants someone with the greater outfield vision and participation of a ‘new Neuer.’
This leaves a questionmark over the entire defence even, unfortunately, over Vincent Kompany. City’s captain has served the club superbly since arriving from Hamburg in 2008. But he is clearly injury-prone as was illustrated when the latest in a never-ending string of muscle injuries forced his substitution in Madrid.
Even the once-magnificent Kompany no longer provides the guarantee of security which Guardiola would want, long-term, at the heart of his defence.
Yaya Toure, a lumbering lost soul in midfield in Madrid, and Martin Demichelis are already considered to be halfway out of the door. They could be accompanied by any or all of the likes of Pablo Zabaleta, Eliaquim Mangala or Nicolas Otamendi, Fernandinho or Fernando, Jesus Navas and Wilfried Bony.
The selection challenge for Guardiola may not be so much who to sell but who is worth saving for his brave new world.