Manchester City’s opener of the season ended in a win for new manager Pep Guardiola.
The Drunk In-Law
Being introduced to the in-laws can go one of two ways. You could tell a dirty joke that doesn’t go down well, accidentally mistake her Mum for her Dad, and choke on Grandma’s famous roast potatoes. Alternatively, you could swagger in with some wavy threads, discuss a gap year in India where you submerged yourself in their wonderful culture, and explain your reasoning behind why you volunteer with a group of orphans each Friday. It’s just one of those things that could go horrendously or wonderfully. Pep Guardiola found out today that being introduced to the Premier League is just the same, except that you can get all of the above in one match. Pep found himself spitting out Grandma’s roast potatoes when Jermaine Defoe slotted in from close-range on the 71st minute, but was saved on the 89th minute by Paddy McNair slapping his face against the ball to send it into the back of his own net. Guardiola was saved by one of his in-laws turning up drunk and taking the spotlight away from him.
Guardiola had this to say on the Premier League: “I didn’t realise how difficult it is. You aren’t safe until the referee says ‘okay you can go home now.’ Long ball, free kick, throw-in, long ball, free-kick….” He then added how he enjoyed the first moments: “I was so happy in the first minutes, with the Beatles song and the early goal.”
An 89th minute own-goal on paper looks a little like Sunderland had a draw unfairly stolen away from them at the final moments, and David Moyes described it as “gut-wrenching”. This wasn’t the case though – Sunderland very almost stole a point they didn’t really deserve. City played with some fluidity during the game and Sunderland almost ruined the party. Guardiola introduced a formation that has rarely/never been seen in the Premier League before. Stones and Kolarov stayed at the back while Sagna and Clichy played just in front of them, only coming back into their usual full-back position when City lost possession. Fernandinho took the spot just in front of the “back four” but slotted in as a third centre back when City lost the ball. It was like watching Wacky Races half the time with everyone sprinting around all over the show! I’m giving myself a headache just thinking about it all. Up the top of the field it was very fluid with everyone swapping positions with each other and flicking the ball here there and everywhere (I’m sure Pep puts it much more professionally, but I don’t get paid that much). Despite this, City didn’t really come up with a host of chances. Yes, it was beautiful to watch and everyone in the stadium had a lovely time, but there were few chances and City’s goals came from a penalty and an own goal. Room for improvement.
Team Sheet Shenanigans
Guardiola is full of surprises, and he did not disappoint on his first game. Despite Willy Caballero showing some dodgy form in his time at City, Pep opted to play with his Willy in his first game (behave). There’s been much speculation about Joe Hart’s future with the club, despite how Guardiola saying in his pre-match press conference that Hart will have the chance to prove himself. Evidently Guardiola did not mean in the first game of the season. After the game, the City manager said that Hart could very well start in mid-week, as he only played Caballero after a very impressive pre-season. Another shocker was when Guardiola ignored Tosin Adarabioyo and Jason Denayer, to instead opt for Alecksander Kolarov to play at centre back. Kolarov had a somewhat surprisingly great game in the end, as he and Stones worked well together! An unexpected great partnership in the making? (Doubt it). Yaya Toure was left out of the squad also with Wilfried Bony, Samir Nasri and Eliaquim Mangala. Leroy Sané and İlkay Gündoğan are still injured.
Solid as a Stone
John Stones made his City debut and it highlighted just why City paid so much for him. In no way am I defending the ridiculous Premier League transfer prices that are knocking about at the moment (Yannick Bloody Bolassie for £30million?), but you can see why City tried for the young England international! He was comfortable on the ball, suited the system perfectly, constantly asked for the ball, and barely put a foot wrong. The fact that Stones is two footed and quite happy to go off sprinting with the ball up and down the field highlights just why Guardiola wanted the lad.
Repaying the Sterling
Raheem Sterling was like a different player! Last season he was often criticised for not taking on his man down the wing, but all game he hugged the wing and was keen to sprint past players. It was Sterling that won City a penalty in the first three minutes. He cut in from the wing and was brought down by Patrick van Aanholt, for Sergio Aguero to then tuck away the penalty. Sterling was a bright spark in a game that fell a little flat in the middle, and Pep was full of praise for him after the match commenting on how nice he is personally and what a great player he has been since he’s arrived: “from the beginning I had a feeling that this guy is good… from Liverpool. Not just me, all the physios, all my assistants – we want to help him to see the real Sterling.”
Chant of the Game
“Shit Man United” was a personal favourite as the City fans sang this to the Sunderland fans. With half their squad being ex-United players, and now David Moyes at the helm of the North-East team, the City faithful weren’t exactly wrong.
“Don’t sell Joe Hart” was a chant that may have pricked the ears of a certain Spaniard in the dugout. Only time will tell, but after the game Pep Guardiola refused to say too much about it.
Quote of the Presser
Guardiola attended his first City post-match press conference and was full of energy, talking while flailing his hands all over. I thought he was going to bring in a plain by accident at one point. I won’t go on about how fantastic he is though (as I did it in this article a week ago, and word has it that Guardiola is considering getting a restraining order on me), but he was fantastic.
“From now on, tomorrow morning I am going to decide what is best for the team… he can play” on whether Joe Hart could play in the Champions League game in midweek. The door is very much open by the sounds. Albeit a bit of a revolving door. He went on to say that “I’m pretty sure he’s not happy” when asked how Hart took the news.
Work to Do
The game was beautiful to watch as all City players look comfortable on the ball and the new formation only had a few blips, however there is definitely work to be done. More chances will need to be created and Guardiola will want to decide on what some players’ best positions are. Also, he will want to dip into the transfer market: whether that’s for a new goalkeeper or not is not known, but with Wilfried Bony half way out the door I’d expect a striker to come in.
The City fans definitely seem much happier though with this new style of play, and so do the players as all 18 came on at the end of the game to clap the fans away in the centre circle. A new badge, a new manager, and a new attitude. This could be a very exciting season for Manchester City.