Manchester City’s Midfield Depth Problem

This week’s Manchester Derby was fairly uneventful, with City registering the first shot on goal for either team somewhere in the middle of the second half, and the game ending in a 0-0 draw. City was without two of their best attacking players (Sergio Aguero and David Silva), and it showed. To compensate, Manuel Pellegrini moved Yaya Toure up from his typical deep-lying midfielder/box-to-box role to a more attacking role behind Wilfried Bony, who would often come back deeper to link the defense to Toure in attack. From there, presumably the plan was for Toure to distribute the ball to Sterling and de Bruyne on the wing who would then either cut inside or cross the ball to Bony. I say “presumably” because de Bruyne usually either kicked the ball to the nearest Manchester United defender or as far as he could over the touchline, wasting the few opportunities City had to attack.

This plan worked relatively well up until the wingers got the ball, and as a City supporter I couldn’t have been happier with the Bony/Toure linkup. However, the American commentators focused quite a bit on how much City missed Aguero, and while he’s one of the best strikers in the EPL, I disagree that missing him was the problem. Running the quick numbers through my model, Bony as a replacement for Aguero is only a couple point downgrade over the course of a season. Missing Silva was the problem, and City needs a backup for him.1 Who can they get?

First, I looked at my “Points Above Replacement” spreadsheet, and confirmed the conventional wisdom: Yaya Toure and David Silva are both in the top 25 players in my database at their given position for Manchester City.2.  From the few players who were improvements, I looked for players who could play at least centrally in addition to their primary position as either a defensive mid or attacking mid, and I eliminated players who come from rival teams who would be unlikely to sell3. After these filters, I was left with what I consider six good options4.

Midfield Reinforcements Manchester City

The barplot shows the change in expected points for each of the six players I found as options for Manchester City. The best option according to my model is Swansea City’s midfielder Ki Sung-Yueng. He’s in his prime (he’ll be 27 in January), would be relatively easily buyable for a “big club” like Manchester City, and can play either as a defensive midfielder or more centrally.

The next best option, for me, is Milan Badelj. He’s the same age, and can play both centrally and as a defensive mid, and based on his history would be reasonably affordable to buy from Fiorentina.

Gary Medel and Daniele de Rossi are probably my least favorite buys on the list: both are older, de Rossi’s probably unbuyable and I’m not sure what sort of price tag it takes to buy a player from Inter Milan these days.

The other options are the young stars: Ilkay Gundogan, Marco Verratti, and Lorenzo Crisetig. Of the three, Gundogan’s price tag is probably too high and reportedly said “no” to Manchester United this summer. Crisetig is the biggest surprise on the list (my model likes him for Arsenal too), but he’s young with a big upside for me, and wouldn’t be too expensive as a speculative buy. I like Marco Verratti a lot, and PSG *may* need to sell someone if there’s any truth to the rumors that they’re going to buy Cristiano Ronaldo, and he could be a long-term replacement for either of the two aging stars so if he’s buyable I think City should pursue him.

To be clear, this is just a starting point. If I’m in charge at City, I’m surprised by how much the model likes Ki Sung-Yueng so I send scouts to every Swansea City game between now and January 1 and watch every bit of video I can get on him to see how well he’d fit the team’s style and how well he could slot in for either Toure or Silva. Same with Verratti, Badelj, and Crisetig. City’s depth could be their biggest weapon, but it was clear today that they don’t have a great second option for when David Silva is out and that could be what stops them from catching Arsenal.



  1. My model actually thinks Patrick Roberts would be a good replacement for him, but clearly Pellegrini doesn’t trust him as much as my model does so I’m operating under that assumption here.
  2. Yaya Toure is #16 in the box-to-box role, and Silva is #23 in the CAM role for Manchester City
  3. My model really likes Daley Blind as a replacement for both of them, but he’s obviously not an option
  4. Really five good options and Daniele de Rossi, but I’m such a huge fan of his I always like to add him when I’m talking box-to-box midfielders

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