Irish Daily Mail

HOW PEP KEEPS CITY ON TITLE TRACK

Camaraderi­e, Ake on the piano… and analysing geese formations!

- By JACK GAUGHAN

THE top of Porto’s five-star Palacio Hotel was sombre and reflective the morning after Manchester City’s biggest night. At last a Champions League final, only to fall at the hands of Chelsea.

Many felt they had not done themselves justice at the climax of a season that saw Pep Guardiola’s team send records tumbling.

City’s chairman, Khaldoon Al Mubarak, had not been able to speak to Kevin De Bruyne after the 1-0 defeat. De Bruyne, who left the Estadio do Dragao in tears, was sent to hospital after suffering nose and eye socket fractures.

Al Mubarak wanted to relay a message to City’s talisman — one he must hope sets the tone for the months ahead. The pair sat down on the hotel sofas overlookin­g Portugal’s second city. ‘I wanted to thank him for the season he’d given this team, for the commitment to the club,’ Al Mubarak said.

‘I wanted to make sure he remembers that this is how it feels losing a final and that with his leadership, we will be back and that he will win a Champions League for us.’

Guardiola had been given the same message when receiving his runners-up medal from the chairman on the podium the night before. Al Mubarak wanted to impress on his main protagonis­ts that he knows City have the capabiliti­es to line up as finalists again in Saint Petersburg next May.

That is the goal for Guardiola at a club now more comfortabl­e with its naked ambition of lifting the biggest prize — the only one they are missing. But he will realise that topping last year — romping to the Premier League title, being effectivel­y three games from an unpreceden­ted quadruple — is going to be some ask.

The Catalan’s job has always been a little different to that of most of his contempora­ries. City win so much that while evolving tactically will always be important, attempts to preserve the squad spirit, to avoid arrogance and complacenc­y, trump all.

It is why Guardiola wants at least a couple of new faces in every summer. A different voice, a player to keep others on their toes. At £100million, the most expensive British player ever, Jack Grealish is the chosen one this time.

Guardiola wants Tottenham’s Harry Kane to follow him. It is no mistake that both targets have pre-existing relationsh­ips with those at the club.

The City manager also believes these arrivals help freshen camaraderi­e. The electronic dartboard will be with them at the hotel before visiting Tottenham on Sunday, so too the table tennis tables. The two sky blue banners reading ‘together’ and ‘we fight till the end’ will hang inside the away dressing room.

They will mess about in groups playing little indoor games of two-touch to relax. Kyle Walker will bark a stream of consciousn­ess in the hour before kick-off, acting as background music. Ruben Dias will approach the middle of the room to deliver his thoughts. Captain Fernandinh­o will wait until nearer kick-off.

City are releasing a documentar­y, entitled Together, detailing the final 46 days of last season as they won the club’s fifth title in a decade and went so close to conquering Europe. It presents a closeness that belies any personal misgivings over game time that can fester, and partly points to why they succeeded in a year of empty stadiums and general indifferen­ce across the country.

The wildest scenes came in Europe as they broke new ground. The entire squad jubilantly FaceTimed injured third-choice goalkeeper Scott Carson at home in the moments after beating Borussia Dortmund in Germany.

Nathan Ake later entertaine­d on a white piano at the Radisson Blu hotel over a dinner attended by club legend Mike Summerbee and chief executive Ferran Soriano. The defender’s performanc­e on the keys prompted a rapturous reception. Guardiola has always insisted those moments are spent as a group; the South American barbecues after big nights, the parties after silverware.

There was an afternoon last year when Guardiola became fascinated by the formation of geese in flight captured on camera when reviewing drone footage of training. He enthused about their teamwork to performanc­e analyst Harry Dunn and noticed similariti­es between that and how a squad should behave together: leaders at the front and those who follow.

City have to reproduce last season’s brilliance all over again and, while Guardiola is afforded the very best in every department, there is a real knack to replicatin­g success so often. Liverpool, Chelsea and Manchester United are stronger than ever and the trick now is to stand up to sustained questions from different angles simultaneo­usly.

Al Mubarak’s words in the aftermath of Porto suggest that staying stationary is not an option. Together is out today at 10am for City+ members for one week before it is released globally on YouTube.

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