Can Manchester City Conquer The World Without A Striker?

Six months ago, Pep Guardiola looked set to splash some serious cash on a new striker, with multiple reports linking the Cityzens with a £100m+ move for Tottenham talisman Harry Kane. 

For many, the prospect of adding a proven goalscorer to an already devastating City side was mouthwatering and constituted the final piece in the puzzle that would make them truly unstoppable. 

And splash the cash they did. 

But with notoriously contumacious Spurs chairman Daniel Levy digging his heels in and refusing to listen to offers for the England man, it would be Aston Villa’s Jack Grealish, rather than Kane, that would arrive at the Etihad. The addition of Grealish meant City would head in to the 2021/22 season with hot-and-cold Gabriel Jesus along with an out of position Ferran Torres as the only true strikers at the club.

Now, with cash-strapped Barcelona somehow finding £55m down the back of the sofa to lure Torres to the Camp Nou last week and Jesus’ finding a new home for himself on the flanks, City seem set to head in to the business end of the season without a recognised striker in their ranks.

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The game might have moved on a lot from the days of the ‘Big Man Up Top’, but the thought of the reigning Premier League champions defending their title with no centre forward, something as synonymous with the English game as the half time pie and Bovril, is unthinkable… 

Or is it?

Well, not with Pep in charge.

The ‘false nine’ is nothing new to football. The role was being utilised in South America as far back as the 1890s but, like so many tactical innovations, it was popularised in the modern era by Barcelona.

The late, great Johan Cruyff was utilised in the role by Rinus Michels, the father of Total Football, at Barca before making Michael Laudrup his ‘conductor’ once he took the reins at the Blaugrana.

It is little wonder then that Laudrup’s former teammate and ultimate Cruyff disciple, Guardiola, would take the role to new heights with his use of the diminutive Argentine genius Lionel Messi when he followed in the footsteps of his mentor by taking his rightful place in the Camp Nou dugout.

While it might perhaps have been born out of necessity at City, Guardiola has revolutionised the use of the striker-less system deploying an array of wingers and central players, including Raheem Sterling, Bernardo Silva, Kevin De Bruyne and Ilkay Gundogan, in place of a centre forward.

Some in the media may have been concerned that a lack of an elite out and out centre forward would present a chink in City’s Sky Blue armour, especially given Chelsea’s recruitment of Lukaku and the continued dominance of Liverpool’s attack, but they remain as lethal as ever! 

In their previous five campaigns, City have averaged 93.2 league goals a season. At the time of writing they have already found the back of the net 53 times, with Raheem Sterling (7), Bernardo Silva (7), Riyad Mahrez (6) Kevin De Bruyne (6) and Phil Foden (5) and co. all sharing the load to put them ahead of their rivals at the top of the league and the goalscoring charts. 

To put that in to context, Romeu Lukaku, who returned to Chelsea for £97.5m in the summer has managed just five goals, while Harry Kane, the man they had hoped to prize in the summer, has just four to his name.

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City are already proving that they don’t need a big name striker to dominate domestically, but can their makeshift strike-force lead them to global domination?

Since arriving in the North of England, Man City’s owners have made no secret about their desire to get their hands on a Champions League trophy. 

This goal played a big part in their decision to bring Guardiola to England, but so far he has struggled on the continent, accused of over thinking and over-tinkering in his quest for an elusive third UCL title. 

The Champions League is a competition that is synonymous with iconic strikers. 

Raúl, van Nistelrooy, Henry, Shevchenko, Inzaghi, Del Piero… Looking down the list of the competition’s All-Time Leading Goalscorers is like meandering through the Centre Forward wing of a footballing Hall of Fame. 

And strikers continue to dominate. The game’s big name "big lads” shine on the European stage, with 190cm West Ham flop turned Ajax ace Sebastian Haller leading the race for the Golden Boot (10 goals), with fellow forwards Bayern’s Robert Lewandowski (9), Mo Salah (7) Cristiano Ronaldo (6) and Karim Benzema (5) hot on his heels. 

But City are holding their own.

Last season, they finally broke their Quarter Finals hoo-doo, scoring 24 goals on the way to a final defeat to Chelsea. This year, they’ve already racked up 18, Mahrez building on last season’s decent return by bagging five in six on their way to the Last 16; where they face off against Group B runners up Sporting early next month. 

Should Pep go one better this time round and Europe’s top teams and greatest goalscorer to European glory without a specialist striker, it could well go down in history as the greatest of his already innumerable achievements.

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James Rhys

James is an experienced multi-sports journalist and editor based in the UK. 

During his career he has covered everything from rugby league to Major League Baseball, with work featured on major outlets including the BBC and Sky Sports.

He currently focuses predominantly on covering football in Australia from an international perspective. 

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