We have all done it. Written down a first XI and a second XI. It is a common method used by fans to establish whether we have squad depth. But it is also floored.
Manchester City do not have a 1st XI and 2nd XI. They have a squad of 16-17 players who are all considered as being the first team.
If I asked 5 people to write down Manchester City’s “1st XI”, they would probably come up with 5 different answers.
Some would have Kyle Walker at right back, others John Stones. Some would have Riyad Mahrez and Phil Foden, others would put Jack Grealish in. then there is Stones, Ruben Dias, Manuel Akanji, Nathan Ake and Aymeric Laporte as the central defender options.
Most would probably leave Akanji out, but he has played more minutes than any other Manchester City defender this season.
Meanwhile, those 5 will probably name the same Arsenal XI. And it goes a little something like this:
White Saliba Gabriel Zinchenko
Saka Odegaard Xhaka Martinelli
Manchester City only really have 3 players who fall under the “if they are fit, they start” category – Ederson, Rodri and Erling Haaland. The rest tend to rotate in and out.
Even the great Kevin de Bruyne is not immune from Guardiola’s rotation policy. The Belgium has been left on the bench for many a big game in the past.
Arsenal are the opposite.
If any of the above XI are fully fit, they will almost always play. And that is why we have run out of steam this season.
This season, Guardiola has made 88 different changes to his starting XI from one Premier League game to the next. Mikel Arteta just 38.
As Arsenal tired, Manchester City got stronger. And that is due to how Guardiola managed his squad throughout the season.
Of course, it is easy to manage a squad that cost £1bn, and earns twice as much as your rivals. There squad is filled to the brim with quality. There has probably never been a squad with as much depth in the history of the game.
A squad of 17-18 players with now “1st XI / 2nd XI”. Just a first team squad.
Whilst we can not compete financially, it does not mean that should not be looking to follow Guardiola’s route to success. Build a single squad of 17-18 first team players, all capable of rotating in and out without dropping the quality of the team. Or having to change tactics to accomodate.
Recently, She Wore
contributor boss Gav mentioned about how we need “3-4 new first team players“. And he is correct.
However, what he is not saying is that those players must be bought to come in and replace current 1st team players. They must come in alongside the current 1st XI, giving Mikel Arteta more options as to who starts regularly.
And what is important is that those players bought in offer Arteta similar attributes to those within the squad.
I get fed up when I see people say “we need a Plan B”. No we do not.
Often this is said with the striker. People call for a “big one” to be a Plan B option when Gabriel Jesus is not working.
But say Jesus picks up a long term injury, like he did this summer, and that Plan B then has to play regularly. The Plan B is the opposite of Jesus – Big, physical,slow, static (lets call him Olivier) – and the result is we have to change the way we play just because a player is injured.
“Well lets buy Jesus a like for like back up and a Plan B” some will probably say. Ignoring that will mean we then have a surplus of strikers. Jesus’s replacement only coming in when Gabriel needs a rest, and the Plan B only coming on when we need a goal. It would be poor squad management.
In Takehiro Tomiyasu / Ben White we have full back covered. Likewise the Martinelli / Trossard axis on the left covers off there. Jakub Kiwior shares a skill set with Gabriel. But elsewhere across
This summer when we are looking to get someone to compete with Bukayo Saka, the first requisite must be that they are left footed. That they replicate Saka’s skill set.
That way, they can come in for Saka without us having to change the structure of the side. We do not need a right footed winger who can “offer something different”; like I have seen some people describe Reiss Nelson as.
If we want to change it up a little, then we already have Leandro Trossard and Gabriel Martinelli who provide a right footed option on the right.
Kieran Tierney is a fantastic left back. But he does not share a skillset with Olexsandr Zinchenko.
When the Scotsman comes in for the Ukranian, it sees us either having to change the structure of the team, or KT playing in a position he is uncomfortable in.
Finally, there are probably not two central defenders with such differing skills sets as William Saliba and Rob Holding. We need to look at getting an understudy in for Saliba who has similar attributes. So that we do not have to defend deeper or narrower because the Frenchman is out injured.
We build a squad of 17-18 players of similar skills sets, who can all come in at any time without the side changing its pattern of play.
Edu is looking at both Declan Rice and Moises Caicedo this summer. But that does not mean both will immediatly come into the 1st XI. More they would share the duties alongside Thomas Partey and Jorginho. And hopefully you can now see the “starting 18” take place?
We would be going from: Xhaka, Partey, Lokonga, Elneny to Rice, Caicedo, Partey and Jorginho.
You can play any of those 4 in either the 6 or 8 and not see a drop off in quality of the team. That will allow Arteta to make more changes in central midfield, keeping players fresher for longer.
You recruit Caicedo and Rice, and no longer will the 5 people questioned earlier all put out the same starting XI.
Some will have Rice and Partey, others Caicedo and Rice and some even Partey and Caicedo.
Likewise, the return of Tomiyasu would potentially create a debate between him and White on the right, and Tomi and Zinchenko on the left
You add the Caicedo and Rice to: Ramsdale, White, Tomiyasu, Saliba, Gabriel, Kiwior, Zinchenko, Saka, Odegaard, Vieira, Martinelli, Trossard & Jesus, and you are then beginning to build a more balanced squad. Less first XI and more First Team.
Throw in the new Saliba cover and another attacker and you are beginning to get the squad of 17-18 (it would actually make 19!), then a clear 1st XI and 2nd XI.
Next season, we have more higher level games to play. As said a few times on the blog, we do not need more players. We need more better players.
And that might see the likes of Tierney, Holding, Balogun, Smith Rowe, Nketiah and Nelson leave. The drop off from the regular starters to them is just too great – in both ability and skill sets.
They then need to be replaced with players who are the equivalent, or better, than those who have served Arteta so well this season.
We should be buying players as good (or better) as Jesus, Partey, Xhaka, Odegaard and Saliba. Not keeping players who will only play if someone is not fit.
We need to move towards having a strong 17-18. Not a strong 1st XI with a weaker 2nd XI.
Enjoy your Wednesday.
That is an extremely good and refreshing analysis which i fully agree with. It is why Arteta also prioritorize players who can cover two positions, such as Ben and Tomi. 17-18 First team players for all premier league and champions league games, with another 6 or so up and coming players for the FAC and LC and occasional introduction when games are won would be perfect