City have done the im­pos­si­ble…

Soccer Laduma - - Supporters' Noticeboard -

Last sea­son, Manch­ester City were breath­tak­ingly dom­i­nant on the way to their third Premier League ti­tle, blow­ing away most teams and suc­cumb­ing to very few. It can, how­ever, be said that the Cit­i­zens didn’t get much of a chal­lenge from the di­vi­sion’s other top sides. Although they aren’t the only un­beaten team in Eng­land in 2018/19 up un­til this point, I get the feel­ing that City side will not be stopped.

The gap be­tween first and sec­ond place at the end of the sea­son might not be as as­tro­nom­i­cal a fig­ure as it was last time out, but you’d have to be out of your mind or, as I call it, a Liv­er­pool fan, to not have City as your out­right favourites to win the ti­tle. Yes, the scin­til­lat­ing foot­ball isn’t be­ing spo­ken about as it was at the start of last sea­son, but if you watch this team closely, you will no­tice that they’ve im­proved even fur­ther. As if all the records they broke in the pre­vi­ous cam­paign weren’t good enough, the tac­ti­cally-ob­sessed per­fec­tion­ist that is Pep Guardi­ola is get­ting his team to work even harder…

If you look at the ta­ble, if you watch high­lights, it might ap­pear to you that City are play­ing the ex­act same way as they did last sea­son, but that isn’t Guardi­ola. Guardi­ola isn’t the type to rest his feet, grab a drink and pon­der his suc­cess. He’s the type to con­tin­u­ously and re­lent­lessly strive for com­plete flaw­less­ness. He did that at FC Barcelona, he did that at Bay­ern Mu­nich.

The Spa­niard has made a few tweaks to his sys­tem at City that have breathed new life into the team, but how does one bet­ter a record-break­ing sea­son? By pay­ing at­ten­tion to de­tail. For starters, look at the role Ben­jamin Mendy has played since his re­turn to fit­ness. Like Kyle Walker does at right back, Mendy pro­vides width when City are in pos­ses­sion, which is 80% of a game. The French­man, un­der strict in­struc­tions, hugs the touch­line in his op­po­nent’s half, tak­ing on the role of the winger. This then al­lows the left-sided at­tacker to go in­side and give the team ex­tra num­bers in mid­field, which of course is where the Cit­i­zens win their matches. Guardi­ola could have achieved this last sea­son, of course, if it weren’t for Mendy’s un­for­tu­nately long in­jury lay-off.

An­other ma­jor up­grade has been Aymeric La­porte. While he was signed in last sea­son’s win­dow, the un­capped French­man is now a first-team reg­u­lar in the team and is even be­ing talked about as one of the best cen­tre- backs in Eng­land. A nat­u­ral ball-play­ing de­fender, La­porte is re­laxed on the ball and tough in the tackle. Be­cause of his com­po­sure and abil­ity in pos­ses­sion, City can af­ford to play a high-line, again to give them more num­bers in mid­field.

In the mid­dle of the park, Guardi­ola’s team is still as au­thor­i­ta­tive as ever, but I’ve no­ticed that it is now tak­ing quicker for them to get in and around the op­po­si­tion box. It’s a more di­rect and more ruth­less ap­proach. With the ball at the feet of Brazil­ian goal­keeper Eder­son, La­porte or Stones re­ceives it, takes one or two touches be­fore skip­ping Fer­nand­inho, play­ing it di­rectly to the more ad­vanced mid­field­ers, such David Silva, Bernardo Silva, Riyad Mahrez or Leroy Sane. Al­ways want­ing to carry on for­ward, one of those play­ers ac­cepts the ball al­ready on the half-turn, with the aim of cre­at­ing a goalscor­ing chance in mind. With the in­side for­wards, two roam­ing cen­tre-mids and striker, City now have five play­ers near their op­po­nent’s goal – of course they’re go­ing to have chance af­ter chance. And just wait for Kevin De Bruyne to be fully fit again…

Per­haps even more im­pres­sive than the slight tac­ti­cal mod­i­fi­ca­tions has been the de­sire shown by the play­ers, es­pe­cially shown by the more se­nior mem­bers of the team. Only top man­agers have this kind of im­pact on a team. David Silva is a great ex­am­ple. Un­der Guardi­ola, the mer­cu­rial mas­ter of space has taken his game to new heights and is prob­a­bly play­ing the best foot­ball of his ca­reer. Ser­gio Aguero is an­other player Guardi­ola kept on his toes from day one and the team has so far reaped those re­wards. A ruth­less goalscorer, a clever drib­bler, the Ar­gen­tine ticked ev­ery box, but his man­ager wanted more. Guardi­ola has al­ways been an ad­vo­cate of the first line of at­tack be­ing the first line of de­fence and he’s got that with Aguero.

Maybe the most spec­tac­u­lar player im­prove­ment at City is Ster­ling. He was ex­cel­lent last sea­son, but he’s even bet­ter this sea­son. His con­fi­dence and swag­ger on the ball, his un­re­lent­ing run­ning at de­fend­ers, his end prod­uct, it’s all been in­cred­i­ble to watch. I per­son­ally didn’t think Ster­ling was tech­ni­cally gifted enough to be­come a world-class for­ward, but like Guardi­ola has done with so many play­ers in his man­age­rial ca­reer, he’s made the 23-yearold be­lieve in him­self. They say per­fec­tion doesn’t ex­ist, and the never sat­is­fied Guardi­ola might feel that way too, but to a non­ge­nius like my­self, this City team is pretty darn close. I wouldn’t be sur­prised if they go un­beaten in the league this sea­son…

Cheers, Kurt

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