Guardi­ola re­turns to Man City draw­ing board

Kuwait Times - - SPORTS -

Rat­tled by a chas­ten­ing first sea­son in Eng­land, Pep Guardi­ola has gone back to the draw­ing board in an at­tempt to fash­ion Manch­ester City into Pre­mier League cham­pi­ons. Ex­pec­ta­tions were sky-high when Guardi­ola alighted in Manch­ester af­ter years of be­ing courted by City, but a ti­tle chal­lenge failed to ma­te­ri­alise and his side did not make a mark in any of the cup com­pe­ti­tions. They re­turn to the fray this week­end hav­ing spent around £200 mil­lion ($261 mil­lion, 221.3 mil­lion eu­ros) on play­ers and Guardi­ola be­lieves an ex­cit­ing new team is tak­ing shape.

“With all re­spect to the play­ers, last sea­son we were one of the old­est teams in the Pre­mier League. We didn’t buy full-backs for five, six years,” said Guardi­ola. “We de­cided last sea­son we could change the team to make the team younger for the next four or five years. “Danilo is 26, (Ben­jamin) Mendy is 23, Bernardo (Silva) is 22, Eder­son is 23, so we bought play­ers who are go­ing to be sta­ble for the next years.” There were some promis­ing signs last sea­son-an open­ing salvo of 10 straight wins, a stun­ning Cham­pi­ons League vic­tory over Barcelona-but City never found any con­sis­tent form.

Guardi­ola seemed un­pre­pared for the rude phys­i­cal­ity of English foot­ball and was de­rided for say­ing he was “not a coach for the tack­les” af­ter a one-sided 4-2 de­feat at Le­ices­ter City. City’s foot­ball was, oc­ca­sion­ally, daz­zling and they were only outscored by cham­pi­ons Chelsea and Tot­ten­ham Hot­spur, but find­ing an ef­fec­tive de­fen­sive con­fig­u­ra­tion gave Guardi­ola a con­stant headache. John Stones looked shaky fol­low­ing his big-money move from Ever­ton and Guardi­ola’s dis­sat­is­fac­tion with his full-back op­tions saw mid­field­ers Fer­nand­inho and Je­sus Navas de­ployed in the wide de­fen­sive po­si­tions. There should not be any shoe­horn­ing of play­ers into un­fa­mil­iar roles this sea­son af­ter Guardi­ola signed three top-level full­backs-Kyle Walker, Ben­jamin Mendy and Danilo-at a com­bined cost of around £124 mil­lion.

AGUERO-JE­SUS CO­NUN­DRUM

Guardi­ola hopes to have put his goal­keep­ing prob­lems to bed as well, hav­ing re­acted to Clau­dio Bravo’s tra­vails by bring­ing in Brazil goal­keeper Eder­son from Ben­fica in a £35 mil­lion deal.

Bernardo Silva, mean­while, ar­rived from Monaco, fur­ther strength­en­ing a stel­lar at­tack­ing depart­ment that also con­tains Ser­gio Aguero, Gabriel Je­sus, Leroy Sane, David Silva, Kevin De Bruyne and Ra­heem Ster­ling. “Manch­ester City have the best team on pa­per,” ex-Eng­land mid­fielder Owen Har­g­reaves told the Pre­mier League of­fi­cial web­site. “It took a bit of an ad­just­ment for Pep Guardi­ola, but City are my favourites.”

Back-up goal­keeper Willy Ca­ballero, full-backs Pablo Za­baleta, Bacary Sagna and Gael Clichy and wingers Je­sus Navas and Nolito have all left, while the un­wanted Joe Hart has gone out on loan again to West Ham United. Guardi­ola has tested out a three-man de­fence in pre-sea­son, with Stones lin­ing up along­side Ni­co­las Ota­mendi and cap­tain Vincent Kom­pany, whose abil­ity to re­main fit will once again be un­der scru­tiny.

Play­ing three at the back may en­able Guardi­ola to as­so­ciate Aguero and Je­sus in at­tack, af­ter he gen­er­ally used a sin­gle-striker sys­tem last sea­son fol­low­ing Je­sus’s ar­rival in Jan­uary. Even more so than his old foe Jose Mour­inho across town at Manch­ester United, if Guardi­ola can­not at the very least or­ches­trate a sus­tained ti­tle chal­lenge, his gilded rep­u­ta­tion will take a size­able hit. Last sea­son was the first time in his man­age­rial ca­reer that he fin­ished a cam­paign with­out hav­ing added at least one tro­phy to his col­lec­tion.

An­other sea­son with­out sil­ver­ware will raise se­ri­ous doubts as to whether he re­ally is the man to carry City to the sum­mit of Euro­pean foot­ball for the first time. —AFP

Pep Guardi­ola and Jose Mour­inho

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