Man City put bad De­cem­ber be­hind

Business Day - - SPORT - Agency Staff Manch­ester

Pep Guardi­ola’s re­ju­ve­nated Manch­ester City face a po­ten­tially tricky chal­lenge at home to Wolver­hamp­ton Wan­der­ers on Mon­day as they con­tinue their Premier League ti­tle de­fence.

But the early days of 2019 sug­gest their un­char­ac­ter­is­tic De­cem­ber col­lapse is firmly be­hind them.

In the fi­nal month of 2018 City lost suc­ces­sive league games, against rel­a­tively mod­est op­po­si­tion in both Crys­tal Palace and Le­ices­ter City, fol­low­ing an end to their un­beaten do­mes­tic start to the cam­paign ear­lier at the be­gin­ning of De­cem­ber.

But a vic­tory over lead­ers Liver­pool to kick off in the New Year com­pletely re­ju­ve­nated the mood at the Eti­had Sta­dium after City had been de­nied the ser­vices of in­jured play­maker Kevin de Bruyne for most of the first half of the cam­paign.

And two stun­ning cup vic­to­ries in the space of four days al­beit against lower league clubs Rotherham and Bur­ton Al­bion sug­gested the clin­i­cal, cut­ting edge that char­ac­terised City’s play dur­ing last sea­son’s record­break­ing ti­tle-win­ning cam­paign was back.

Cham­pi­onship side Rotherham were swept aside 7-0 at the Eti­had, with third divi­sion Bur­ton suf­fer­ing a more painful fate in a lop­sided first leg of League Cup semi­fi­nal, when City scored nine goals with­out re­ply.

That lat­ter vic­tory as­sured City of a place in the fi­nal against Tot­ten­ham or Chelsea in Fe­bru­ary and also in­di­cated the de­mand­ing Guardi­ola will not tol­er­ate any let-up in his quest to add more sil­ver­ware to the club’s tro­phy cab­i­net.

It was a mood re­flected by De Bruyne against Rotherham when he showed vis­i­ble dis­sat­is­fac­tion at be­ing brought off after an hour, even though his team City were al­ready lead­ing by five goals.

Some re­ports even sug­gested De Bruyne re­fused to re­turn to the bench to watch the re­main­der of the match, re­main­ing, in­stead, in the City dress­ing room.

“No, I didn’t speak with him,” said City man­ager Guardi­ola curtly, when asked if he had dealt with De Bruyne’s re­ac­tion to be­ing re­placed. But given that the Bel­gian has started just one league game so far this cam­paign, he is likely to be chomp­ing at the bit to play from the kick-off against Wolves.

Ser­gio Aguero, too, has re­turned after be­ing ab­sent since the Liver­pool win due to ill­ness and in­spi­ra­tional club cap­tain and de­fender Vin­cent Kom­pany is an­other player win­ning his bat­tle to be fit for Mon­day’s match.

The gen­eral pic­ture sug­gests that, hav­ing weath­ered a brief loss of form, City have not only re­turned to their clin­i­cal best but also have a num­ber of key play­ers hit­ting fit­ness at the right time, as Guardi­ola in­sists his squad can main­tain their chase for hon­ours on four fronts.

Even long-term in­jury vic­tim Ben­jamin Mendy is mak­ing progress and ex­pected to re­turn to the fold shortly.

Mean­while, sec­ond-placed City will want to close the seven-point gap at the top of the ta­ble cre­ated by Liver­pool’s 1-0 win away to Brighton on Satur­day when they face Wolves.

How­ever, the Nuno Espir­ito Santo side held City to a cred­itable 1-1 draw ear­lier in the sea­son at Mo­lineux and drew 1-1 at the Eti­had in last sea­son’s League Cup when they were still a Cham­pi­onship club.

“We re­alised when we played the EFL [English Foot­ball League] Cup and the first away game how com­pli­cated it would be,” said Guardi­ola of the threat posed by high-fly­ers Wolves.

“They are strong phys­i­cally, counter-at­tack, set-pieces. There is not just one or two, there are three or four [Wolves play­ers] and when you are tired, they can put on new play­ers.”

“They de­fend well, deep, they con­trol many ar­eas Moutinho, Neves, he can shoot from a long way. They are newly pro­moted and do­ing in­cred­i­bly well,” Guardi­ola added.

Ser­gio Aguero Kevin de Bruyne

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from South Africa

© PressReader. All rights reserved.