How Manchester City could potentially lineup in the 2021/22 season

The American Cityzen
5 min readJul 19, 2021

Currently, there is not much to discuss in the footballing world other than transfers. From the perspective of Manchester City, the two biggest transfer targets this summer have been Harry Kane and Jack Grealish (stories about them specifically can be seen here and here). However, the main goal of this article is to analyze and speculate on how City could lineup next year if (and that’s a big if) both Grealish and Kane are signed. Here, a couple of potential interesting lineups and tactics will be discussed as to how Pep Guardiola could use the two in his system.

First Potential Lineup

This lineup, as evident, is the typical 4–3–3 lineup that we have known to see from Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City in previous years. The new highlights of this lineup, of course, are Harry Kane as the lone striker and Jack Grealish in the left-sided central midfield role. This potential lineup could be favorable to Pep for multiple reasons, but some glaring advantages to this lineup are tactical flexibility, and the ability to overload the midfield in many different areas.

It has been clear for much of Pep Guardiola’s coaching career that he loves keeping possession and having superior numbers in midfield. Not only does this potential lineup allow him to do that, but he could overload the midfield from multiple areas. He has two fullbacks in Cancelo and Zinchenko who are more than comfortable coming into midfield, a left winger in Foden who can play as a midfielder, and a striker in Harry Kane who is comfortable dropping into midfield. Therefore, not only can superior numbers be created, but City can be flexible with the positioning of their players. For example, Cancelo played a very different role than a traditional right back last year. He played higher up, and City adopted a back 3 in possession. This lineup could see the “Cancelo role” come back again, and look something like this:

There are many characteristics of some of last year’s lineups, but with an added twist. As you can see, City adopt a back 3 in possession with Dias in the middle of it. Cancelo then goes to his unique role from last year in playing high as another offensive creator for the attack in the right central midfield. Occupying this space (that is often occupied by Kevin De Bruyne) gives Pep flexibility to move around Kevin De Bruyne either wider right to link with Mahrez and provide his patented dangerous crosses, or to drift left, which he did much more often last season than in seasons past. By drifting left, there creates an overload of Foden, Grealish, and De Bruyne. The prospect of having those three players overloading one side of a defense would create absolute nightmares for Premier League defenses. All three of those players can take up multiple positions on the field, allowing their interchanges and positioning to be seamless.

De Bruyne could also drift to the right and interplay with Mahrez and Cancelo, which would provide a different, but equally scary, plan of attack. Between De Bruyne, Foden and Grealish, their style of play lends itself to playing passes to each other until one of them can beat their man, find some space, and exploit it for a big chance. On the right side lies City’s three most dangerous crossers of the ball now with the prospect of putting balls in the box to the biggest threat in the Premier League: Harry Kane. De Bruyne and Cancelo both can put in dangerous crosses from about any angle, and Mahrez is always a candidate to cut inside on his favored left foot and put in a lower, bending ball in front of the keeper for a teammate to get on the end of. Either way, this potential lineup could create overloads on both sides like they have done in years past, but now with more fluidity from Grealish, and a world-class finisher in Harry Kane.

Second Potential Lineup

This lineup is a bit more unconventional, given that Pep has shown a reluctance to play Sterling on the right side anymore. Nevertheless, a lineup like this could offer some different attacking options for Pep Guardiola to utilize. First, Walker playing at right back would signify more defensive solidity and less creativity coming out of that position. However, the added creativity can be taken up by Harry Kane. One of the traits that we saw from Harry Kane this past season with Spurs and with the England squad is his ability to find runners in behind when dropping deep. There are not many better in the world at timing their runs in behind better than Raheem Sterling. In possession, it could be possible to see positions taken up like this:

In the defense, there is nothing new here that Pep Guardiola has not done previously. He has often moved his fullbacks into midfield to provide greater numbers as well as additional protection for counter attacks. However, the new wrinkle that could be added is Kane’s ability to drop deeper and create. Pep was not afforded this luxury with Aguero or Jesus in the past. Manchester City did play a false 9 often last year, but the prospect of having a world class striker like Harry Kane drop deeper is a different prospect. Not only could he pick out balls in behind to Sterling, Torres, or Mahrez, but dropping could also pull opposing center backs out of position and open up space for him to sneak balls into Gundogan or De Bruyne. As seen by this past season, Gundogan is very good when receiving the ball in more advanced positions and scoring in the box. Harry Kane’s creativity from deep can help Gundogan find more space making forward runs and score more goals this coming season for City.

The beauty of discussing tactics, player analysis and potential lineups is that multiple people can observe completely different things on the pitch, and it does not necessarily mean that any of them are wrong. These two potential lineups and tactics are only some of many possibilities that Pep Guardiola and Manchester City could use going forward, and I am sure that there will be other uses that we won’t even know until the ball is kicked. That is the beauty of football.

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The American Cityzen

I’m a City supporter providing analysis and thoughts on all things City