As the kickoff of the new season draws near the players are raring to go. The pre-season friendlies served as a way to warm-up for them ahead of the big task of performing up to or beyond expectations in the new campaign.
Usually, players have personal targets for the season beyond what is expected of them from the manager and the fans. Sometimes living up to those expectations can be a difficult task.
Manchester City have brought in Erling Haaland as the new front man with the sole aim of putting the ball in the back of the net. The young striker showed signs of what is to come just 12 minutes into his debut for the club, scoring the only goal to beat Bayern Munich 1-0.
From all indications, the 22-year-old will not have a problem adapting to life in Manchester City and continuing from where he stopped at Borussia Dortmund. But there are other players who have a big challenge ahead to prove their worth to the team.
1. Jack Grealish
Haaland’s goal was important to put the Norwegian in the mood. But it was equally important for the man who provided the assist, - Jack Grealish. The Englishman has taken the stick for his underwhelming performance last season that led to him spending time on the bench.
His three goals and three assists in 26 Premier League appearances for City last term fell short of even his return of six goals and 10 assists in the same number of outings for Aston Villa the previous season.
Although that was not a particularly bad return for a player getting into a new team, when you have the price tag of £100 million and hold the record as the most expensive signing in the Premier League, much more is expected of you.
With a lot of weight on his shoulder given his price tag, the pressure has been massive. But instead of buckling under pressure, it seems the 26-year-old has chosen to rise to the challenge.
He has no other option, as he will need to step up and do much better this season. The early signs in preseason show he is up for the challenge.
2. Nathan Ake
Nathan Ake was close to leaving Manchester City this summer as Chelsea sought to take the defender back to Stamford Bridge after spending time there earlier in his career.
Having spent a huge chunk of his time on the bench at City last season starting just 10 Premier League games, it seemed a move elsewhere to get sufficient playing time was on the cards.
First, the defender was linked to Newcastle United. But the new money bags didn’t show much interest in the centre-back.
City were open to sell if Chelsea met the club’s valuation of the player and a replacement was lined up. In the end the deal fell through but Ake will definitely want more playing time this season.
Under Guardiola, however, that has to be based on performance. The 28-year-old will need to convince his manager that he deserves to play more by actually performing when given the chance.
3. Julian Alvarez
When Manchester City concluded the deal to sign Juliana Alvarez from Argentine side River Plate, many felt that the young forward was going to be sent out on loan for his first few years at City. It’s a path followed by many in order to be fully prepared for life at the top of European football.
But a strong performance for his boyhood club afterwards led many to have a rethink. His 18 goals and six assists in 21 appearances for River Plate in 2021 showed he was ready for the step up. But the Premier League is leagues above the Argentine Primera Division.
The big question now remains if he will be able to put up the same performance or at least a similar one at the highest level. The early signs are good, however, as the 21-year-old has been given a vote of confidence by his manager.
With that, the Argentine has something going for him already. He received glowing praise from Guardiola after his debut against Club America.
“Julian (Alvarez) was incredible, defensively he is quite similar like Gabriel (Jesus)," said Guardiola after the game.
“Gabriel is probably the best, but he is close to him in aggression and how intuitive he is, he makes the runs and with the ball he’s absolutely brilliant.”
All he has to do now is to step on to the pitch and repay the faith his manager has placed on him by putting up top-notch performances. But that is no easy task.
The likes of Riyad Mahrez and Rodri are perfect examples of players that were excellent in their teams before moving to Manchester, but needed time to adapt to the demands at the Etihad Stadium.
It took them two seasons to finally settle in and perform at levels expected. Alvarez has a big job on his hands to show that he can not only fit into Guardiola’s system but deliver similar performances that saw him gain so much praise back home.
For him and the other two players, the season can’t start soon enough.