Palace, beware: The Guardiola era is taking off at Man City
ABS-CBN Sports on Sep 23, 2017 09:35 AM
Manchester City's coach Pep Guardiola gestures as he talks to players during the English Premier League soccer match between Manchester City and Liverpool at the Etihad Stadium in Manchester, England, Saturday, Sept. 9, 2017. (AP Photo/Rui Vieira)
By Steve Douglas, Associated Press
MANCHESTER, England (AP) — Crystal Palace, beware. The Pep Guardiola era might truly have taken off at Manchester City.
For proof, check out City's opening goal against West Bromwich Albion in the League Cup in midweek.
A 52-pass move straight from the kickoff and containing at least two touches from every player — even goalkeeper Claudio Bravo — ended with Leroy Sane driving a rising shot into the net. It took 147 seconds.
For a soccer aesthetic like Guardiola, the goal was a thing of beauty — maybe a sign that his ideas are bedded in at the start of his second season in charge.
He's got his dynamic full backs, albeit belatedly, in Kyle Walker, Benjamin Mendy and Danilo. He has an embarrassment of riches in midfield, Guardiola's favorite department. He has two pure and in-form strikers in Sergio Aguero and Gabriel Jesus.
City goes into its home game against last-place Palace on Saturday on top of the English Premier League and having scored 16 goals in its opening five games. The team has netted 17 goals in four games across three competitions in the past two weeks.
Palace, with no points and no goals so far, should be fearful.
"We should be embracing the challenge," Palace manager Roy Hodgson said on Friday, before adding in what could be the understatement of the season: "But, realistically, we know they have a better chance on paper than we do."
City has been here before under Guardiola. Last season, City even started better in winning its first six league games and scoring 18 goals in the process. The team didn't win any of its next three games and eventually fell out of the title race after a poor middle part of the season, finishing in third place.
But this looks like a different City. Walker and Mendy, full backs who have been playing virtually as wingers, have added a completely new dimension to the team's attacks, and have the pace and energy to get back into defensive positions if City loses possession. They are huge upgrades on Gael Clichy, Pablo Zabaleta and Bacary Sagna, who were all in their thirties and were released in the offseason.
By playing in a slightly withdrawn midfield role, Kevin De Bruyne is playing a bigger role in the build-up and giving fellow playmaker David Silva more space to flourish. Bernardo Silva, signed from Monaco for $55 million, is having to bide his time to earn a regular spot in the team but is an ideal replacement as an attacking midfielder.
In attack, Aguero and Gabriel Jesus are linking up well, either as a two up front or with Gabriel Jesus playing out wide in a 4-3-3. They have scored nine league goals between them already.
Palace will be a good test of City's revised attacking shape. Hodgson will likely set up his team to play very defensively and deeply, and look to frustrate City while causing problems on the counterattack.
City was held at home by Stoke, Middlesbrough and Southampton last season, as well as a Manchester United team that came to Etihad Stadium for a 0-0 and got it.
"I struggle with that all my career," Guardiola said on Friday. "I was in teams where (opponents) defended 10 players in the box, and attacked on the counter. It has always been like this for nine years as a manager."
"My dear fellows," he added, addressing reporters with a smile, "it's the Premier League. And I hear from the beginning that every single team can beat the other one. That's the best expression I've heard since I arrive."
Guardiola, however, did say he is "more convinced" of City's quality this season, after an offseason outlay of around $300 million.
The scary thing for Palace is that the 52-pass goal against West Brom was achieved by a virtual second-string team put out by Guardiola. The likes of Aguero, De Bruyne and Silva return for Palace and Guardiola said captain Vincent Kompany could be back after a calf injury.