Match Coverage

Manchester City 2-1 Sunderland: What We Learned

What did we learn from Pep Guardiola’s first competitive match in charge of City? Quite a lot, in fact. But Anis Bazza picked out some of the more interesting things from yesterday’s game.

Pep Guardiola is nuts

It was quite obvious how Carlo Ancelotti was going to set up. His Real Madrid side had staked a 1-0 home advantage a week earlier and were visiting the Allianz Arena with one intention only. They were going to sit back, soak up pressure and hit fast and hard whenever they could. Pep, who hadn’t really found a clear-cut solution to counter-attacking teams in the past, was determined to try something new. He played a usual back four, only at every able opportunity, Lahm and Alaba would drift deeper in into the middle, anticipating any through-balls and ready to defend the wide areas from quick wingers. It was a calamitous error of judgement and it resulted in Pep’s most embarrassing defeat of his career. He was so hurt that he spent the next two years attempting to perfect it.

And herein lies the foundation of Manchester City’s formation against Sunderland. It was a usual 4-3-3 without the ball. Almost everything looked normal except for a certain Serbian at the back. Only as soon as City took control of the ball (and they did that a lot), the full-backs Clichy and Sagna pushed forward and narrower, Fernandinho dropped deep to form a back three and Sterling and Nolito hugged the by-line. It was an intriguing and fascinating watch, something I have never been seen in the English game before.

Several roles had been reversed. Sagna and Clichy were now spinning and turning as soon as they received the ball, trying to find space to pick out a pass. They were mopping up in front of the defence and shuffling across out-wide just as Pep wanted. Sterling and Nolito – both forwards rather than wide players – were playing a Jesus Navas role. David Silva and De Bruyne made use of the massive gap between the full-backs and Aguero and roamed freely popping up everywhere and anywhere.

The entire set-up completely dumbfounded Sunderland who weren’t sure how to approach the game.

A work in progress

Despite the slick tactics and neat formations, it wasn’t a roaring success. City bossed possession but didn’t do much with it, failing to create clear chances and barely exposing the Sunderland back four. Most disturbingly, Kevin De Bruyne looked a little lost, unsure of where he should be and when him and David should alternate positions.

It wasn’t the sterile possession for the sake of it that Pep claims to hate but it was clear that Pep’s ideas were not being fully realised.

David Silva found a little rhythm and Sterling bossed his opposing full-back but other players like Nolito (who has failed to impress me so far) and De Bruyne failed to make an impact on the game. It’s still early days though and I’m sure more time with Pep on the training field will yield better results.

Let bygones be bygones

I’m honestly hesitant to let anything Kolarov-related slide but if Pep can do the unthinkable and turn him into a competent center-back (a feat far greater than teaching Otamendi how to hold a line) than I can do nothing but hold my hands up and say fair play.

We know why Aleks has been chosen at the back: he passes the ball with zip and can spot a decent pass if given space. But Kolarov also showed other sides of his game against Sunderland that I never thought he had. He was mature, lead his line and made John Stones feel right at home. It was a great performance.

You might think Aleksander Kolarov has overstayed his time at City by a year or even two. You might think he’s worst player in the squad. But Pep has clearly taken to him so you better let bygones be bygones.

Joe Hart is finished at Manchester City

Picking Willy Caballero was without doubt a statement from Guardiola. He wants a new goalkeeper and he doesn’t trust Hart at all.

Joe Hart apparently can’t play out from the back with his feet. I’m not so sure that’s true myself because I’ve never seen Hart be asked to play that way but Pep’s convinced. Pellegrini never asked it of him and Roberto Mancini definitely didn’t. So it’s quite a surprise that Pep is so adamant he wants to replace him when he’s only been back for a few weeks.

As for replacements, one of the Barcelona keepers look set to join and it’s looking increasingly like Claudio Bravo. Marc-Andre ter Stegen is the dream but it looks Pep will have to do with the 33-year old Chilean now.

It’s a real shame to say this but Joe Hart is far too good to play back-up to anyone so don’t expect to see him at Manchester City after August.

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