Declan Rice is the latest superstar to be linked to Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City. After winning the treble, Manchester City have sadly been left with a huge technical hole in the shape of Ilkay Gundogan.
The German star looks set to join Barcelona after seven glorious years at the Etihad Stadium.
According to many, the West Ham United midfielder is the man that Guardiola will turn to.
Now of course it’s obvious to anyone that watches both clubs that Declan Rice is a very different kind of midfielder to the type that Guardiola has been known for.
However, Pep has previous for taking a player and turning them into something new entirely. The consensus online seems that he’ll be tempted to do this with Rice. But does he even need to? I’m not so sure.
Manchester City’s system in this past season has been an evolution of what we’ve known previously.
Gone are the days of small, technical players scattered throughout the starting XI. Instead there are physical behemoths, strong, domineering and powerful. Think Rodri, Ruben Dias, Erling Haaland, John Stones, Nathan Ake, Manuel Akanji.
This is a Manchester City side built just as much on technical excellence as it is on power and strength.
Pep is not afraid to mix his tactics up and change things if he feels he needs to. After winning an incredible treble, and on top of all the success that Manchester City have achieved during his reign, it’s fair to say that a need for change could be necessary.
The next chapter of Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City book could be one considerably more pragmatic. A stoic, powerful side built on a defensive brick wall that allows the creative players much more freedom than previous incarnations of his City sides.
This is where Declan Rice comes into it.
On the surface, Declan Rice is not your typical Manchester City player. Though technically very good, it’s fair to say he isn’t necessarily on the level of a Rodri or Gundogan with the ball at his feet.
His main attributes are his aggression, his long galloping strides through the centre of pitch, his instinctive defensive awareness and his versatility.
These aren’t always the attributes that you would associate with a City player. They are incredibly useful though, as are his mental attributes.
He’s a natural born leader.
He’s popular, and for good reason. That inherent work ethic drove him and West Ham onto European Conference League success this season. A large part of that was built on the influence that Rice has on those around him.
It’s no surprise that he’s an incredibly popular figure at West Ham United, and that doesn’t go unnoticed. City are known for signing players that don’t just fit their ethos stylistically, but off the pitch too.
If Man City are to maintain the levels of excellence, they will need people like Declan Rice going forward. Not only great professionals, but players hungry to achieve success on their own terms.
There is a tendency amongst high achievers of sport to drop below their previously exceptional standards when they’ve reached the pinnacle of possibility. A treble is as close as it gets in domestic football.
A hunger drop is inevitable. This is where a need for drive and aggression comes into it. Declan Rice would fit into this Manchester City side perfectly.
He possesses enthusiasm, hunger and leadership tendencies in addition to his talent. These could be the attributes that keep this side focused while also allowing Guardiola to change system if needed.
If Rice joins Manchester City, we could see a permanent change to their set-up, with a double pivot at the heart of midfield.
There have been hints of this already, with Lewis, Stones and Walker at times stepping into midfield alongside Rodri.
Rice could be the next evolution of this idea.
Rice could join Spanish international Rodri at the heart of midfield. This allows Pep to deploy a more traditional number 10 ahead of the midfield pair.
Phil Foden seems the obvious candidate for this role, as does Kevin De Bruyne. Foden in particular with a full license to be as creative as possible could be quite a sight.
Maybe even the pair of De Bruyne and Foden could sit ahead of Rodri and Rice together if Pep finally commits to a three at the back formation.
Further changes to the squad revealed.
Croatian international Josko Gvardiol is strongly linked to Manchester City, and it makes sense considering these possible moves.
Gvardiol, rotating with Ake, would be perfect in a back three alongside any two of John Stones, Ruben Dias and Manuel Akanji. This back three formation with two holding midfielders ahead of them could allow Guardiola’s attackers the creative freedom.
Improving their ability to overwhelm teams. A backline of Gvardiol, Stones, Dias, Rodri and Rice is impressively physical, and technical too. That’s without even mentioning the options of Ake, Akanji, Walker and so on.
Should City to commit to three at the back, with Rice and Rodri holding, we can presume that Rice would be given the keys to get forward and support attack. Though I think the opposite would be true.
Pep is a famous advocate of shutting down the counter and transition.
If there is one attribute that Rodri perhaps lacks, it would be his pace on the recovery. Rice has this in abundance. He’s a natural at cleaning up counters, using his Fernandinho-esque energy to cover ground.
Given Rodri’s tendency for a huge goal, and his greater technical excellence, I personally feel Rodri would be the one most likely to step up creatively, with Rice the protective cover the midfield needs.
There are many ways in which Rice could be useful. I’m sure Pep has a thousand more ideas. While it’s tempting to presume that a player would be viewed as a like-for-like replacement, Pep and City just don’t think this way.
They understand that players like Ilkay Gundogan, Silva, Yaya, Sergio and others before them, are not easily replaceable. They’re unique for a reason.
You cannot find a new Ilkay Gundogan. But you can find a brilliant, young hungry midfielder who could bring new ideas, fresh energy and new hunger to this Manchester City side. Declan Rice, if City sign him, could hopefully be that man.