Man City are still the best team in Europe, but have their challengers closed the gap?

Manchester City have given their rivals hope this summer. Less than two months after achieving the Treble by winning the Premier League, FA Cup and Champions League, Pep Guardiola’s team goes into the new season looking weaker than it ended the last.

City will still go into Sunday’s Community Shield clash against last season’s Premier League runners-up Arsenal (10:50 a.m. ET, stream live on ESPN+) with arguably the strongest squad in the Premier League, and maybe even Europe, but the reality is that the summer trading by their closest challengers has seen the gap reduced. Since Ilkay Gundogan lifted the club’s first European Cup by defeating Inter Milan 1-0 in Istanbul on June 10, City have not adhered to the old maxim that teams should strengthen while they are at the top.

Gundogan, the inspirational captain whose two goals in the 2-1 FA Cup win against Manchester United completed the second leg of the Treble, has since moved on by joining Barcelona as a free agent after rejecting a new contract at the Etihad.

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Winger Riyad Mahrez, who contributed 15 goals and 13 assists for Guardiola’s side last season, has also left the club. Guardiola said City could do nothing to stop the former Leicester City standout from joining Al Ahli following an “incredible” £30 million offer from the Saudi Arabian team for the 32-year-old.

Both Gundogan and Mahrez played pivotal roles in City’s Treble success, and neither had been assigned to the exit list by the club. They both chose to leave despite Guardiola’s preference being for both to stay.

England right-back Kyle Walker might still follow them out of the Etihad, with Bayern Munich continuing to press hard to sign the 33-year-old. If Walker goes, Guardiola could be forced to turn again to Joao Cancelo, having seemingly brought the Portugal defender’s City career to a close by hastily sanctioning a loan to Bayern in January.

Cancelo is now back at City, having failed to secure a move elsewhere, but uncertainty continues to hang over the former Juventus player, as well as Walker.

In many ways, City’s difficult summer has gone under the radar. While almost half of the Premier League clubs have spent their preseason in the U.S. and enjoyed the spotlight that comes with Stateside summers, City have been in Japan and South Korea, almost out of sight and out of mind. Sunday’s Wembley date with Arsenal will put City back in the spotlight, though, and they will be there having, to date at least, made just one addition to their squad this summer with the £25m signing of Chelsea midfielder Mateo Kovacic.

Kovacic is a player of great pedigree, having already won four Champions Leagues with Real Madrid (three) and Chelsea (one), but the 29-year-old Croatia international will not fill the huge gap left by Gundogan.

City had attempted to thwart Arsenal’s £105m move for West Ham United‘s Declan Rice, but they failed to convince the midfielder to move to Manchester, so the Gunners won the race and signed a player who will instantly give Mikel Arteta’s team a major upgrade. If City are able to complete a move for RB Leipzig centre-back Josko Gvardiol in the days ahead, Guardiola will feel much more comfortable going into the new season, but Gvardiol will only join an already formidable defence rather than solve a problem elsewhere within the City squad.

A year ago, City moved swiftly and decisively by signing Erling Haaland, Julian Alvarez, Manuel Akanji and Kalvin Phillips. While Phillips endured an injury-affected season, Haaland proved to be a sensational signing with 52 goals in 53 games to propel the team to the Treble, with Alvarez also weighing in 17 goals. Akanji also ended up as a key figure in the Treble success.

Haaland is still there and will score plenty of goals again, while Jack Grealish, Kevin De Bruyne, Rodri, John Stones and Ruben Dias continue to provide a formidable nucleus for Guardiola. Bernardo Silva and Phil Foden can be devastating attacking options, and Guardiola has big hopes for City youngsters Rico Lewis and Cole Palmer, but there is no doubt that City have allowed the rest to catch up a little by losing key players and failing to land key targets.

Arsenal have taken a giant leap forward by signing Rice, Kai Havertz and Jurrien Timber. United have also strategically addressed key positions with the signings of midfielder Mason Mount, goalkeeper Andre Onana and are closing in on Atalanta forward Rasmus Hojlund.

Chelsea have been busy with high-profile ins and outs, but the appointment of Mauricio Pochettino as coach suggests they will be competitive again. Although Liverpool have seen their plans impacted by the surprise exits of Jordan Henderson and Fabinho to Saudi Arabia, the additions of Alexis Mac Allister and Dominik Szoboszlai have addressed obvious midfield issues, while forwards Darwin Nunez and Cody Gakpo are expected to kick on in their second year at Anfield.

With Newcastle United and Aston Villa also making impressive signings, City appear flat-footed, looking over their shoulder at plenty of teams who have made themselves stronger this summer.

Winning the Treble was an incredible achievement, but the reset button has been pressed, and City have allowed others to get closer to them before a ball has even been kicked.


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