Manchester City: 2020-21 Season Review

Manchester City had another successful season under Pep Guardiola, winning two pieces of silverware. They wrestled the Premier League title back from rivals Liverpool in comprehensive fashion, as well as maintaining their dominance in the League Cup. The Citizens also reached the latter stages of their other two competitions – the UEFA Champions League (losing finalists) and the FA Cup (losing semi-finalists). Despite playing the most games of any English team, Manchester City negotiated the pandemic-hit season with ease. Guardiola’s philosophy towards rotation was a big reason for this. He prefers to spread the burden across the squad rather than in a small concentration of players. This review aims to summarise how exactly Guardiola utilised his squad during the 2020-21 season.


Manchester City played 61 games this season: 38 in the Premier League, 13 in the Champions League, five in the League Cup and five in the FA Cup. Below is a graph detailing the changes made per game to their starting line-up across the year. Guardiola made an average of 5.35 changes per game, cementing his place as one of the most prolific tinkers in 2020-21.

Yet it was a season of two halves for City in terms of rotation. Their three-game average was consistently below their season average in the first half of the season, whereas it was consistently above in the second half. This is perhaps unsurprising as one would expect to see more rotation towards the end of a season to ease the increasing burden on players. However, I would argue that this was more due to the amount of injuries City had at the beginning of the season, which restricted Guardiola’s ability to rotate.

As we can see from the graph below, City’s three-game average for players missing through injury was consistently above the season average for the first 16 games of the season, as well as over the dreaded Christmas period, yet was consistently below for the final 24 games. This means Guardiola had less players at his disposal at the beginning of the season than he did at the end, meaning his ability to rotate was severely constricted early on. But which players benefitted from this the most?


The below scatter graph plots the availability and utility of Manchester City players for the 2020-21 season.

  • Availability is classed as the percentage of minutes a player was available for selection out of the total possible minutes in a season (5,490 for City)

  • Utility is defined as the percentage of minutes played out of the total minutes available for selection

Fifteen players feature in the top-right quadrant that represents those with availability above 50% and utility above 50%. This shows how Guardiola was able to distribute minutes well across his squad. There were not many players which he relied on heavily. In fact, only Ruben Dias and Ederson had a utility above 80%.

Considering City’s first-team squad consisted of just 23 players, it also means just eight players failed to make it into the best quadrant. These were Fernandinho, Ferran Torres, Benjamin Mendy, Zack Steffen, Eric Garcia, Sergio Aguero, Nathan Ake and Scott Carson. Only the last four had seasons hampered by serious injuries, whereas the other four were reliable bench options.

Interestingly, City had no players in the top-left quadrant that represents low availability yet high utility – a sign that a starter has suffered serious injury problems mid-season. This stands them in stark contrast to their league rivals Liverpool, who had three players there after their three senior centre-backs were sidelined during the season. It indicates that City’s injury problems this year have been relatively mild and they benefitted as a result.


We see a similar dynamic when looking at the total number of starts (as a percentage) and average number of starts before omission from City’s starting line-up for the 2020-21 season, detailed in the scatter graph below. Only one player had less than 10% of starts and that was Scott Carson – City’s third-choice goalkeeper. The biggest concentration of players can be found with 60-70% of starts, highlighting again how Guardiola shared the burden across his squad.

The one outlier is Ruben Dias, who cemented himself as City’s principal figure at centre-back. Though he started a similar percentage of games as Ederson (~80%), his average starts before omission was considerably higher, demonstrating that Guardiola was less likely to rest the Portuguese national than his first-choice goalkeeper, who sat out domestic cup games. It will be interesting to see if this trend continues in 2021-22 as we have seen how dangerous it can be to become reliant on one centre-back.


What does this mean for players’ overall involvement in City’s season? The below graph shows the percentage of minutes played across the season and again we see the burden spread out across the squad. Thirteen players find themselves above the team’s average of 45.83%, yet none had a percentage higher than 80%.

Dias was the most involved defender, with Rodri and Raheem Sterling the most involved midfielder and attacker respectively. The latter is a surprise given that a common narrative towards the end of the season was that the 26-year-old had fallen down the pecking order. However, it shows that you can still accumulate a tonne of minutes at City without playing in the big games and that Sterling is still a massive part of Guardiola’s plans moving forward.

In terms of what to look out for in the 2021-22 season, it entirely depends on who picks up injuries for City really as every member of that squad will be involved. It also depends on what transfer business they do before the window closes in August as there are not many free minutes to pick up apart from those made available by Aguero and Garcia leaving. Torres would be the obvious choice for the former, but that could change if City do decide to buy a striker. Watch this space.

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