Manchester City sealed an historic treble in 2022-23 with a third successive Premier League title, their first FA Cup trophy since 2019 and a momentous UEFA Champions League triumph. As the side everyone wants to topple coming into the new season, we look at five key questions regarding Pep Guardiola’s side in our Manchester City 2023-24 preview.
Can Manchester City Win Four English Top-Flight Titles in a Row?
After winning three successive titles, Manchester City are aiming to do what no English club has done before – win four in a row.
There have been five previous occasions of teams winning three successive English top-flight league titles, but none of them have managed a fourth – the only previous two in the Premier League era being by rivals Manchester United between 1999 and 2001 and 2007 and 2009. Liverpool (in the 1980s), Arsenal (in the 1930s) and Huddersfield Town (in the 1920s) all won three in a row in the English Division One before the creation of the Premier League in 1992.
Pep Guardiola now has the chance to become the first manager to win four English top-flight titles in succession should his Manchester City manage it.
Since Guardiola arrived at the club on the eve of the 2016-17 season, City have won the league in five out of seven seasons, while they have won 50 more points (625) than any other club.
Needing just three more victories, the Spanish manager will become just the third coach to reach 200 wins in charge of a single club in the Premier League after Alex Ferguson at Man Utd (528) and Arsène Wenger at Arsenal (476), while he’s already the leading permanent manager in Premier League history for both win ratio (74.1%) and points per game (2.35).
You wouldn’t bet against him sealing his and Man City’s fourth Premier League title in a row, would you?
Can Erling Haaland Break More Records in 2023-24?
Erling Haaland marched into the Premier League and kicked the door down in his first season at Manchester City. His tally of 36 goals broke the competition’s single-season record by two, while his 52 competitive goals were eight more than any other player has scored for a Premier League club in a season.
The scary thing is that Haaland’s scoring feats plateaued towards the end of the season. Across his final eight appearances in 2022-23, the Norwegian scored just one goal and failed to score in any of his last five matches of the season. There was even a period between January and the start of March where Haaland failed to score in nine of 13 competitive appearances for City, where he grabbed only six goals. Haaland smashed so many records, yet there is still a lingering feeling that he could have done even better.
There’s little doubt about Haaland’s exceptional ability to score goals, so it’s not out of the question that an injury-free season could even see him reach 40 league goals. If he were to do that, he’d join a club of just eight players (Dixie Dean did it twice, so nine instances overall) to score 40+ goals in an English top-flight league season, and he’d be the first since Jimmy Greaves’ 41 for Chelsea in 1960-61. Admittedly, there’s extremely little chance he’d break the all-time top-flight record set by Dean in 1927-28 (60), but Dean’s record tally of 63 across all competitions that season could actually be under threat. Haaland only finished 11 goals off last season, after all.
Only one player has reached the 30-goal mark in successive Premier League seasons before – that was Alan Shearer, who did so for three in a row (1993-94, 1994-95 and 1995-96), but two of those were 42-game campaigns.
Andrew Cole holds the current record as the fastest player to 50 Premier League goals, having hit the landmark in 65 appearances. Haaland is 14 goals off the half-century having played just 35 games, meaning he could average a goal every two games across his next 30 appearances and he’d still overtake Cole’s record as the quickest to the landmark.
How Big a Blow Are the Losses of Ilkay Gündogan and Riyad Mahrez?
With Haaland’s goalscoring drying up towards the end of the season, other players had to step forward and grab the goals. No player did that across May and June more so than Ilkay Gündogan.
His six goals across the final two months of 2022-23 were four more than any other Man City player; his FA Cup final brace to defeat Manchester United 2-1 were his final goals for the club before leaving this summer for Barcelona on a free transfer. As captain in 2022-23, Gündogan lifted his fifth Premier League trophy across seven seasons with the club.
Riyad Mahrez is another summer departure from Manchester, joining the mass exodus to Saudi Arabia with a transfer to Al-Ahli. The Algerian forward produced 15 goals and 13 assists across all competitions for City in their successful 2022-23 campaign – only Kevin De Bruyne (38) and Haaland (61) were involved in more. Overall, during his City career, Mahrez was involved in 134 goals at an average of an involvement every 113 minutes – only De Bruyne tallied more (153) during the period from July 2018.
Experience isn’t everything, but it counts for something. After all, that was one of the main sticks to beat Arsenal with in their failed attempt to topple City in the Premier League last season.
In losing both Gündogan (340 apps) and Mahrez (284), City have lost a combined total of 624 games of top five league experience – two of the five most experienced players from their 2022-23 squad in such games. Should they also lose Kyle Walker – something that has been rumoured over the summer with strong links to Bayern Munich – they’d lose another a player with 363 games of experience in Europe’s top leagues – the most of any City player to play last season.
Will 2023-24 Be the Season Julián Álvarez Becomes a Star?
Julián Álvarez’s first full season at Manchester City couldn’t have gone much better. Part of a historic treble-winning side and chipping in with 17 goals to finish the 2022-23 campaign as City’s second-highest goalscorer in all competitions, Álvarez certainly made a mark. And those are only his achievements at club level. He also played an integral part in Argentina’s 2022 World Cup win in December, as well.
Despite this, Álvarez will want to make even more of an impact this season. At 23 years old, he can’t be placed in the bracket of ‘youth prodigy’ any longer.
His 2,525 minutes of competitive action were lower than 14 of his City teammates last season, with Álvarez being Pep Guardiola’s substitute of choice. He made 26 of his 48 competitive appearances off the bench – seven more than any other player at the club.
With the departures of Gündoğan and Mahrez, Álvarez will be hoping for more playing time this season. His average of a non-penalty goal every 168 minutes in competitive action across 2022-23 was superior to Mahrez’s average across any of his five campaigns as a City player, so the signs are positive.
Álvarez has had a first season to adjust to Guardiola’s methods, and now he’ll hope to break out as a star in his second season at the club, much like Jack Grealish did last campaign.
Could Man City’s Title Challenge Cope With an Injury Crisis?
We know. This question isn’t exactly specific to Manchester City, but it’s fair to say that Guardiola’s side were one of the luckiest in 2022-23 with regards to seeing players out injured.
Assessing data sourced via Premier Injuries, City players were ruled out with injury for a cumulative total of 447 days, missing 62 games overall – both of these tallies were lower than any other side. Compare this to Chelsea’s 1,836 days and 216 games missed across their disastrous campaign, then maybe the champions did have some luck on their side on the way to glory. According to Premier Injuries, there were only four occasions when a Manchester City player missed more than a month across the 2022-23 season: Kalvin Phillips (68 days), Kyle Walker (50), Ruben Dias (40) and Nathan Aké (36).
This enabled Guardiola to have one of the most settled squads in the competition last season. No team used as few players across 2022-23 as City (24), while the Spanish coach was able to rotate these players freely and avoid overworking his squad. Despite making 106 changes to his starting XI over the campaign – only injury-ravaged Chelsea (139) and Liverpool (107) made more in the Premier League last season – just two outfield players played over 75% of their possible Premier League minutes: Erling Haaland (2,776) and Rodri (2,920). Title challengers Arsenal saw six of their players play at least 75% of Premier League minutes last season, with this one of the key reasons they eventually ran out of steam late on in the season, with tired legs setting in across the run-in.
Will Manchester City be fortunate to have such a clean bill of health in 2023-24? If an integral player such as Erling Haaland, Kevin De Bruyne or Rodri were to spend months on the sidelines, would City’s smaller squad be able to sustain the levels we saw last season? Time may tell.
You want to read more Premier League season previews? Click on the links below: