Man City have a perfect squad to defend Champions League after summer transfer business – Joe Bray

Inspirational captain Ilkay Gundogan has left to join Barcelona, while key members of the squad over the last few seasons Riyad Mahrez and Aymeric Laporte have also departed. City wouldnt have won the European Cup without the trio, who each played their part in the years-long journey to get to Istanbul.

In their place, City have brought in four-time Champions League winner Mateo Kovacic, who should inject some much-needed experience into the group. Before beating Inter Milan in June to win the competition, only Scott Carson had a winners medal among the City squad.

Josko Gvardiol arrived for 77.5m, and Jeremy Doku signed for 55.5m. Both are exciting talents, yet their inexperience is summed up by the fact that they do not have to be included on the Champions League A List squad as they are both 21. Instead, they are on the B List designed to allow young players to be called up.

The final signing, Matheus Nunes, first caught Citys eye in the Champions League when the Blues ran riot at Sporting two seasons ago. Pep Guardiola called him one of the best midfielders in the world, while assistant Juanma Lillo recently admitted that the coaching staff decided that night to begin scouting the Portuguese midfielder.

The same number of bodies are in the squad, but is the experience the same? Kovacics exploits with Real Madrid and Chelsea can only account for so much.

With three European Cups at the Bernabeu, plus the 2021 success with Chelsea that City would prefer not to talk about, Kovacic brings experience that the Blues have never had before. These players know how to navigate the knockout stages by now, and are all European Champions. Only Kovacic knows what its like to defend that title.

Especially without Gundogan, Kovacics pedigree could prove vital in instilling the mentality needed to cement Citys place as the best club in Europe. Senior players have not shied away from making public their intention to win the Champions League again, as well as adding the Club World Cup to the Super Cup as City look to unlock more titles on the international stage.

Gvardiol is young and raw, but has a good amount of experience with RB Leipzig. He will return to the Red Bull Arena in the group stage, with a favourable draw handing Guardiola a good chance to integrate his new men as quickly as possible without any huge tests against a European giant. Doku stood out across the top five leagues in Europe last season for his dribbling and chance creation, so will hope to show those talents in his second Champions League campaign after two seasons in the Conference League and Europa League.

Could this be the year that Phil Foden steps out of the shadows when it comes to playing in midfield, then? Foden replaced Kevin De Bruyne when the Belgian limped off in the Champions League final, almost scoring one of the best final goals of all time and dictating play against Inter. Foden can use the group stage especially to make his mark on the midfield, and make Guardiolas reintegration of De Bruyne after injury a difficult one.

Bernardo Silva is another player who will be looked at to step up in De Bruynes absence. Bernardo was brilliant in the semi-final home leg against Real Madrid, with the European Cup experts simply unable to get the ball off him or track his mazy runs. That right-wing spot is his to lose after the summer exits.

Keeping the midfield together will be Rodri, Istanbul hero and Player of the Tournament last year. His goal against Bayern Munich set the tone for a first-leg masterclass, and his end-of-season award is well-deserved for an influential player who is often overlooked due to his position. City fans want to talk about Rodri more and more – with the Spaniard set to play a central role to the Champions League defence.

Then there is the defence, which saw four centre-backs start in Istanbul. Kyle Walker kept Vinicius Jr quiet in the semi-final last year and is Citys most experienced player, but lost his place in the final in a ruthless selection call by Guardiola.

Instead, Nathan Ake was faultless at left-back against Inter, with Manu Akanji brilliant in the centre and playing the decisive ball for Bernardo into the area to set up Rodri. John Stones won Man of the Match in the final for his role stepping into midfield, making more dribbles than Lionel Messi in a Champions League final. If Stones can reprise that midfield role this season, it could be fascinating to see him continue his evolution into one of Europes best midfielders, as well as one of the best central defenders.

And it wouldnt be fair to overlook Stones partner Ruben Dias – a rock at the back and a consistent performer against Inter, Real Madrid, Bayern and others. In the biggest games, Dias is undroppable, and it was him who gave the speech to his teammates in the tunnel at the Ataturk Stadium at half time before the all-important second half.

Who can ignore Erling Haaland as well, scorer of 12 goals in the Champions League last season and a regular record breaker when it comes to the youngest player reach various goalscoring landmarks. Haalands five goals vs RB Leipzig was ruthless, and his character to score at Bayern after missing a penalty was applaudable. He was kept quiet in the semis and the final, showing there is certainly more to come from the UEFA Player of the Year.

Despite all the experience within the squad, the options available to Guardiola, and the new signings to make City even better, sometimes you are still at mercy of nerves or a formidable opponent. When Inter were pushing for a leveller in the final, it was Ederson who answered his critics and produced three huge saves to keep the Blues ahead.

So when all is considered, despite the exits, City still have a formidable squad with European match-winners in every position. Maybe City have lost some experience over the summer, but each player who remains has the memory of winning the biggest prize of all.