Big-spend­ing Guardi­ola leads chase of Chelsea

Kuwait Times - - SPORTS -

Em­pow­ered by a close-sea­son trans­fer splurge of some £200 mil­lion ($264.8 mil­lion, 233.5 mil­lion eu­ros), Manch­ester City are the early favourites to top­ple Premier League cham­pi­ons Chelsea. Pep Guardi­ola en­dured a bruis­ing first sea­son in English foot­ball as City failed to chal­lenge for the ti­tle, even­tu­ally fin­ish­ing 15 points adrift of Chelsea in third place.

The club re­acted with a glut of new sign­ings-three new full-backs in Kyle Walker, Ben­jamin Mendy and Danilo, plus goal­keeper Eder­son and play­maker Bernardo Silva-and now look a force to be reck­oned with.

“I think Manch­ester City are the team to beat,” said Manch­ester United great Ryan Giggs in a re­cent Sky Sports col­umn. “I looked at them to­wards the end of last sea­son and the for­ward play­ers they’ve got is scary.” While City shim­mered in at­tack, they fre­quently looked vul­ner­a­ble in de­fence and res­culpt­ing the back four has been Guardi­ola’s main pri­or­ity. Brazil­ian Eder­son re­places the er­ror-prone Clau­dio Bravo in goal, while dy­namic pair Walker and Mendy will add thrust on the flanks af­ter be­com­ing the world’s two most ex­pen­sive de­fend­ers.

City also have John Stones and Eli­aquim Man­gala on their books, giv­ing them four of the most ex­pen­sive de­fend­ers ever, but with to­tal spend­ing in the league hav­ing ex­ceeded £900 mil­lion, Guardi­ola is un­re­pen­tant. “I would like to pay less for the club, for every­body, but the mar­ket is the mar­ket,” said the City man­ager. “All the clubs spend a lot of money-not just us.”

MOUR­INHO’S SEC­OND SEA­SON

Across town at Manch­ester United, Guardi­ola’s old spar­ring part­ner Jose Mour­inho is also look­ing to kick on af­ter end­ing a dif­fi­cult de­but sea­son with a sil­ver flour­ish.

United fin­ished out­side the top four for the third time in four sea­sons, but se­cured a Cham­pi­ons League berth by win­ning the Europa League and also tasted glory in the League Cup.

Mour­inho’s teams tra­di­tion­ally peak in his sec­ond sea­son and he has strength­ened in each depart­ment with the ac­qui­si­tions of Vic­tor Lin­de­lof, Ne­manja Matic and Romelu Lukaku. Mour­inho won the league in his sec­ond sea­sons at Porto, Real Madrid and In­ter Mi­lan, as well as in both of his stints at Chelsea, but he ex­pects this sea­son’s ti­tle race to be an almighty scrap.

“Nor­mally the sec­ond sea­son should be bet­ter than the first, but again, this is modern foot­ball. The re­al­ity is to­tally dif­fer­ent,” he told ESPN.

“It’s get­ting much harder for ev­ery­one, so we don’t know.” Chelsea, the cham­pi­ons, have thus far failed to sig­nif­i­cantly en­hance a squad that now faces the twin rigours of a league ti­tle de­fence and Cham­pi­ons League cam­paign. Al­varo Mo­rata has re­placed the ex­iled Diego Costa up front, Tiemoue Bakayoko has taken Matic’s place in mid­field and An­to­nio Rudi­ger brings ex­tra de­fen­sive cover, but Chelsea still look a few play­ers short.

In the mean­time, man­ager An­to­nio Conte says his main pri­or­ity is to avoid what he has saltily called “the Mour­inho sea­son” in ref­er­ence to the 10th-place fin­ish that fol­lowed Chelsea’s 2015 ti­tle win.

Chelsea were sen­sa­tion­ally up­staged by Arse­nal in last sea­son’s FA Cup fi­nal and lost to them again in Sun­day’s Com­mu­nity Shield, but Arse­nal man­ager Arsene Wenger re­tains lit­tle mar­gin for er­ror.

While Wenger has pulled off the big­name sign­ing of Alexan­dre La­cazette from Lyon, Alexis Sanchez and Me­sut Ozil are now in the last years of their con­tracts and fan dis­sent will quickly re­turn if re­sults go awry. Mauri­cio Po­chet­tino’s Tot­ten­ham Hot­spur are trust­ing in the same for­mula that swept them to sec­ond place last sea­son and must adapt to a new tem­po­rary home at Wem­b­ley while White Hart Lane is re­built. Fourth last sea­son, Liver­pool have signed rel­a­tively mod­estly, ad­ding Mo­hamed Salah, Do­minic Solanke and An­drew Robert­son to their ranks.

Both Jur­gen Klopp’s team and their ti­tle ri­vals will be mind­ful of the me­nace posed by Ever­ton, whose am­bi­tious trans­fer deal­ings ar­tic­u­late their de­ter­mi­na­tion to crash the top six.

Ever­ton have splashed out on young English tal­ents like Jor­dan Pick­ford and Michael Keane, as well as bring­ing Wayne Rooney back to the club af­ter his record­break­ing 13-year spell at Manch­ester United.

Hav­ing se­cured pro­mo­tion from the Cham­pi­onship along­side New­cas­tle United, Brighton and Hove Al­bion and Hud­der­s­field Town re­turn to the top flight for the first time in 34 and 45 years re­spec­tively. In a nov­elty for the 2017-18 sea­son, play­ers sus­pected of div­ing will face ret­ro­spec­tive dis­ci­plinary ac­tion that could re­sult in two-game sus­pen­sions. — AFP

LON­DON: This is a Sun­day, April 2, 2017 file photo of Manch­ester City man­ager Pep Guardi­ola as he ges­tures dur­ing the English Premier League soc­cer match be­tween Arse­nal and Manch­ester City at the Emi­rates sta­dium in Lon­don. It’s been an­other off sea­son of com­ings and go­ings as Manch­ester City man­ager Pep Guardi­ola at­tempts to deepen his im­print at the Eti­had Sta­dium by spend­ing around $300 mil­lion. —AP

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