Our team-by-team guide to the new Fantasy Premier League (FPL) season continues with this preview of Manchester City.
After a slow start to the 2020/21 campaign, the Citizens won the Premier League title at a canter and finished 14 points ahead of second-placed Manchester United.
City will undoubtedly finish in the upper echelons of the table this season too, though selecting their FPL assets that will gain the most minutes is a much trickier prediction.
Ilkay Gundogan (£7.5m) was one of last season’s most profitable bandwagons, having ended the campaign as City’s top league scorer (13).
He was pivotal to the run which smoothed City’s path to the title, as Guardiola’s outfit won 15 consecutive games from Gameweek 14.
That came after a 1-1 home draw with West Brom, in which the German midfielder also netted.
But Guardiola put the winning run that followed down to a return to Man City’s principles.
“After that game I had a feeling this isn’t a team I can recognise. I didn’t like what I saw. We could have won at Tottenham (GW9) and West Bromwich but I didn’t like [the way we played]. We talked with Juanma [Lillo], Rodolfo [Borrell], Manel [Estiarte], Txiki [Begiristain] and I said we have to come back to our first principle.
“We started to rebuild and reconstruct the team from that point. We had success in the past and [we had to] come back on our positional play, move the ball quicker, do more passes, stay more in position, run less with the ball.” – Guardiola speaking on February 12
Speaking to BT Sport in March, Guardiola added:
We adjusted something, to put more players in front of the box. But especially it was the day after the West Brom game (that we changed), when we drew 1-1 at home.
Those adjustments particularly benefitted Gundogan, who scored 10 times between Gameweek 14 and Gameweek 25.
However, another tactical tweak from Guardiola – along with a policy of heavy rotation – saw the Germany international become much less influential in the final third from Gameweek 26 onwards.
Above: a comparison of Gundogan’s xG shot maps
As can be seen from the above map comparison of the xG of Gundogan’s shots, the midfielder’s license to get into the box was somewhat revoked in the latter part of the season.
It must be said that he started all games in the first period (GW13 – GW25) versus six starts in the second period (GW26 – GW38).
With that in mind, Gundogan had 26 efforts in the box over those 13 starts while managing just six between GW26 and GW38. His xG also tailed off significantly, from 7.01 to 1.81.
This downturn in Gundogan’s numbers coincided with the return of Kevin De Bruyne (£12.0m) to the Man City XI.
That’s not to say that De Bruyne suddenly made his team-mate a bad Fantasy asset, it just saw Guardiola make another system change.
The Spaniard operated with a veritable ‘front four’ of De Bruyne, Riyad Mahrez (£9.0m), Phil Foden (£8.0m) and Bernardo Silva (£7.0m), the Belgian occasionally operating as the nominal spearhead of the attack – something we may see more of in 2021/22 considering that Sergio Aguero has departed and a like-for-like replacement still hasn’t arrived.
That saw Gundogan move into a double-pivot midfield slot, alongside Rodri (£5.5m) or Fernandinho (£5.0m), rather than his previous position in Guardiola’s 4-3-3 – in which De Bruyne also featured before suffering a hamstring injury in late January.
Now £2.0m more expensive than last season’s starting price, Gundogan’s viability as an FPL pick will come down to Guardiola’s set-up once more.
Whether or not De Bruyne will be available for City’s Gameweek 1 opener at Spurs is anyone’s guess, after the Belgian admitted he played through torn ankle ligaments in his country’s EURO 2020 quarter-final defeat to Italy.
“For me personally it has been four or five weird weeks. But I especially want to thank the medical staff. It was a miracle that I played today because there was definitely damage to my ankle – a tear in my ligaments. But I felt responsibility to play for my country today. Too bad I couldn’t do more.” – De Bruyne speaking on July 2
His potential absence could also have knock-on effects for other City attackers. We can only hope for an official update ahead of Gameweek 1.
De Bruyne managed 18 attacking returns last season, in a campaign interrupted by injury and Champions League prioritisation.
That compared to a ludicrous 36 goals and assists combined in 2019/20, where the Belgian started at £9.5m before being hiked to £11.5m for 2020/21.
Despite a less than stellar Fantasy season, De Bruyne has earned another price increase to £12.0m this time around.
The underlying statistics, rather than the tangible FPL returns, point to the reason why: the premium midfielder had the best rate of both shots and chances created among Man City assets in 2020/21.
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