New-look Man City face Liverpool in Community Shield after summer of transformation

Pep Guardiola's team has undergone major shake-up as Erling Haaland and Kalvin Phillips prepare to take on Jurgen Klopp's side on Saturday

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The last time Manchester City lined up at the King Power stadium, venue for Saturday’s Community Shield against Liverpool, they had Ferran Torres at the sharp point of their forward line.

Gabriel Jesus was playing off him, on the right. Once City had taken the lead, Raheem Sterling and Fernandinho came on to lend their experience to securing a 1-0 win over Leicester City.

That September day, Oleksandr Zinchenko stayed on the bench, his crucial contributions – notably setting up a goal on the last-day comeback that sealed the league title – saved up for the latter stages of the 2021-22 campaign.

Fast forward 10 months and the City who take their regular place as Premier League champions in the traditional curtain-raiser to the new season look very different.

Fernandinho, club captain until June, has returned to his native Brazil. Sterling has taken his stellar portfolio of talents – a goal almost every 180 minutes in his City career; close to 100 assists for the club – to Chelsea.

Jesus, impatient for a role as chief striker, has joined Arsenal, as has the industrious, versatile Zinchenko. Torres, meanwhile, is busy wondering if the churn of comings-and-goings at Barcelona, the club he moved to in January, is quite the opportunity he anticipated when City sold him, listening to the young Spaniard’s desire for guarantees of more regular starts.

Stacked together, those five departures represent a transformation that can make this close-season look as radical as any since Pep Guardiola came to City as manager in 2016 with a clear vision of how he wanted to develop the squad.

Much-loved club icons have departed most summers – Yaya Toure, Vincent Kompany, David Silva, Sergio Aguero – but, like Fernandinho, there was an acknowledgement that their respective ages entitled them to move on to less physically taxing environments than the Premier League.

Raheem Sterling has joined Chelsea after seven years and four Premier League titles with Manchester City. Getty

Talented younger footballers ambitious for more minutes on the pitch have previously sought an exit, such as Leroy Sane, lured to Bayern Munich. But the combined expertise and potential of Sterling, Jesus, Torres and Zinchenko – all in their 20s – is substantial, not least when you consider that so many of them have signed for direct rivals.

By the time City travel to Arsenal in October, there should be clear signs of whether Jesus has given the London club the uplift he has hinted at in pre-season friendlies. Sterling should certainly have settled into his niche, as a leader of the new-look Chelsea, once they host City in January.

Naturally, this being City, four times winners of the most competitive domestic league in football in the past five years, the transfer traffic flows in two directions. There is a studious strategy, and economic sense, to this summer’s re-fit.

Gabriel Jesus has left Manchester City for Arsenal. Reuters

Erling Haaland, alongside Paris Saint-Germain’s Kylian Mbappe the most coveted striker of his generation, was an opportunity to be seized once it became clear the giant Norwegian was ready to leave Borussia Dortmund and enthused by the idea of working with Guardiola.

Haaland is a centre-forward unlike almost any City have had on their roster in the past six years, a No 9 who looks like a traditional No 9, but comes with the deft footwork and understanding of space and angles that are essential to a City method that has made Guardiola’s teams as watchable as any in elite club football.

Kalvin Phillips, signed from Leeds United, should bring the sort of passing range that is the basis of City’s fluent style and some of the midfield authority that Fernandinho provided at his peak.

Kalvin Phillips has arrived at Manchester City from Leeds United. Getty

These are an important nine months ahead for Jack Grealish, the costliest signing, last summer, in City’s history, but given fewer minutes last season than Sterling or Jesus had.

In a set-up in which Phil Foden continues to soar, Riyad Mahrez and Bernardo Silva to enchant and Kevin de Bruyne to advertise his broad canvas of excellence, Grealish can hardly take first XI status for granted, but some attention will be drawn away from him by the huge anticipation around Haaland.

And Grealish no longer looks like such an extravagance for his £100 million pricetag, because City have been doing adept, balanced business lately. The sales of Sterling, Jesus, Torres and Zinchenko brought in a similar total in transfer fees to the outgoings on Haaland and Grealish.

Jack Grealish will hope to improve on his debut season for Manchester City. AFP

There will probably be further recruitment in the weeks that remain of the transfer window.

Zinchenko’s departure makes even clearer the case for deeper cover at left-back, with Brighton’s Marc Cucurella a target. Guardiola senses that whatever team he fields on Saturday, there are positions that still need reinforcement.

But the Community Shield will offer clues about how far City have been refreshed and strengthened in their active, purposeful summer.

Updated: July 28, 2022, 6:19 AM
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