Manchester City face a real fight to defend their Premier League crown after the emergence of Liverpool as a major force this season.
The Citizen’s fell four points behind the Reds in the league table at the weekend after succumbing to a shocking 3-2 loss against Crystal Palace at the Etihad.
Jurgen Klopp’s men secured a 2-0 win at Wolves last Friday which has now given them clear breathing space at the top of the standings, four points clear of City heading into a hectic schedule between Christmas and the new year.
Pep Guardiola’s champions have again shown the consistency which blew the competition away last term, winning 14 of their 18 games over the past few months, but this time around they are being matched stride for stride.
City travel to Leicester City on Boxing Day and then to Southampton four days later before arguably the biggest game of the season takes place at the Etihad on January 3, when they host Liverpool.
A lot could change between now and then, but for City to regain the initiative in the title race they may have to turn to the winter transfer market, with a wide range of potential signings already being mooted.
Guardiola has spent wisely ever since he arrived at the club, moulding a side in his own image which has few weaknesses and boasts some of the world’s best players, with competition for places at a premium.
That being said, there is an argument to be made that City are not as strong all-around now as they were when they clinched the title back in May, having again struggled to impose themselves in the Champions League while also suffering the occasional poor result domestically.
Kevin De Bruyne has missed the majority of the campaign so far through injury, which can account for some of their woes considering his supreme influence on the team last season, but Guardiola still has plenty of high-quality options at his disposal.
At the moment, Liverpool look like the complete side from top to bottom, boasting a strong spine and a newly formed defence which is now the meanest in the country, with Virgil Van Dijk and Alisson taking most of the plaudits.
City, meanwhile, have looked vulnerable at the back at times and seem to be lacking a bit of magic in the middle of the park, which Guardiola will surely be looking to address sooner rather than later.
Caught Offside has come up with five potential signings for City to consider when the transfer window reopens, which could change Guardiola’s starting XI for the better.
Frenkie De Jong (Ajax)
First on the list is De Jong, the Dutch sensation who has earned the attention of several top European clubs with his performances in the Champions League and in the Eredivisie this year.
According to the Daily Mail, Barcelona, PSG and Manchester City are all in the hunt for the 21-year-old midfielder, who has contributed one goal and two assists for Ajax in their domestic league this term.
De Jong has been likened to Barca midfielder Sergio Busquets, similar in the way he is always commanding the ball and spraying passes around to control the tempo of the game. He is strong and very comfortable in possession, while also capable of filling in as a defender when required to do so.
Guardiola targeted a holding midfielder during the last transfer window, as he lines up a long-term replacement for the 33-year-old Fernandinho, but he missed out on his primary target Jorginho, who opted to move to Chelsea from Napoli.
De Jong is still a raw talent with much to learn at the highest level, but his potential is frightening and under the stewardship of Guardiola, he could quickly develop into one of Europe’s finest playmakers.
Tanguy Ndombele (Lyon)
This French midfielder has burst into the limelight with Lyon this season, largely due to his standout displays against Manchester City in the Champions League.
The 21-year-old shone during Lyon’s two Group F games against the Citizens, helping his team secure a 2-1 win at the Etihad along with a 2-2 draw in France, as they ultimately earned a spot in the last 16.
Ndombele is a box-to-box midfielder with a fantastic engine who loves to drive forward at any opportunity, which makes him a nightmare for opposition defenders.
Although he is not a traditional holding player, he can fulfil defensive duties whilst also adding a new dimension to the attack, which is an intriguing prospect for Guardiola to consider.
According to ESPN, City are firmly in the race to secure his signature next year, but with a €80 million price tag stuck on his head, Ndombele won’t be an easy purchase to make, especially given the fact that Barcelona and Napoli are also set to do battle for the France international.
Ruben Neves (Wolves)
Wolves and Neves have made the transition from the Championship to the Premier League look easy this season, securing shock results against Man City, Man United, Arsenal and Chelsea to emerge as contenders for a top-half finish.
Neves has been a fixture in Nuno Espirito Santo’s starting XI, playing in a deep-lying role in midfield to provide the link between defence and attack to great effect.
At 21 years of age the Portuguese midfielder has a bright future ahead of him and according to the Manchester Evening News, he has already attracted interest from the English champions.
Neves is another player Guardiola believes is capable of filling Fernandinho’s boots in the future and he could slot into the City midfield nicely alongside fellow countryman Bernardo Silva, who has enjoyed a breakout season with the team this term.
Guardiola is well known for nurturing talent and turning good players into great ones, which is one of the reasons he has been so successful in management over the last decade. Neves has the potential to become a great player and at the Etihad, he might be given ample opportunity to progress quickly at the highest level.
Houssem Aouar (Lyon)
The second Lyon player on this list also endeared himself to Guardiola with his performances against City during the Champions League group stages, even earning personal congratulations from the Spanish boss in the tunnel after the two sides played out a 2-2 draw.
Aouar is the fourth possible replacement for Fernandinho at City and arguably the most natural one, as he possesses the same qualities as the Brazilian in the middle of the park – namely the ability to break up the play consistently and dictate proceedings with his tremendous passing range.
According to The Sun, City scouts have already made contact with Lyon regarding Aouar’s availability, but the club may have to fork out €50 million or more to secure his services next year.
The 20-year-old is one of Lyon’s most prized assets and he hopes to graduate to the French national team in the near future, but in order to do that, he must continue playing regular football.
At City, he would likely start out as an understudy to Fernandinho, but if he is willing to make that sacrifice and learn from the best to develop his game, he could prove to be a shrewd long-term investment for the club.
Nathan Ake (Bournemouth)
As I have previously touched upon, City’s main problems this season have been at the back, where they have been prone to lapses in concentration which have ultimately cost them points both in the Premier League and in Europe.
John Stones and Aymeric Laporte have both done a fine job in the heart of the defence by and large, but the only cover Guardiola has for the first-choice centre-backs is Vincent Kompany and Nicolas Otamendi.
The former is at the grand old age of 32 and suffers from consistent fitness issues, while the latter is prone to recklessness and moments of complacency which have ultimately seen him fall out of favour at the Etihad.
The Sun reports that Bournemouth defender Nathan Ake could emerge as a transfer target for City in January and given his displays for the Cherries over the last couple of years, he might be a valuable addition to Guardiola’s current squad.
The Sun states that City are considering a £40 million bid for the 23-year-old, who would likely be used sparingly when Stones or Laporte are unavailable, but could also realistically challenge for a starting spot given his quality and experience in the top flight.