On this evidence, we’re going to have to revise the entrance exam for new Premier League managers, lads. It wasn’t that wet. It wasn’t that windy either. 4-1 at the home of the team that, supposedly, represents everything English football has over the other top European divisions. “What’s all the fuss about?” asks Pep Guardiola.
The idea that a win at the bet365 Stadium makes or breaks a player or manager is ridiculous, really. “You can win the Champions League as many times as you like, but if you can’t orchestrate a decent performance in Stoke then I’m sorry mate, but I’ve got no respect for you”. English football can do better than this, surely?
It’s clear that Guardiola is intent on redefining what makes English football unique. Forget the physicality and the long balls that sail on the Siberian winds that seem to love a good day at the footy in this country; relentless pressing and brisk, yet composed, one-touch passing is far more impressive in the eyes of our new boss. And under his stewardship, there hasn’t been a game yet where his instructions haven’t been carried out excellently. The 4-1 win over Stoke on Saturday afternoon now means we’ve scored 11 goals in three games, which isn’t too shabby at all.
The flashy scoreline fails to describe just how deep City had to dig for this result, however. For all the elegance on the ball and the clockwork-like movement off it, hard tackling and organisation at the back is also demanded by Guardiola. Before the game had even reached half time City had made 15 tackles with an accuracy of 76.2%. Pep is a multi-dimensional coach, one that seems to know exactly what to do when the scoreline is tight.
Bringing on Kelechi Iheanacho and Nolito at 2-1 provided proof of that. After we’d gone ahead courtesy of our fourth penalty in three games which was, this time, dispatched brilliantly by Sergio Agüero, doubled our lead through an Agüero header and then conceded a penalty of our own to let Bojan squeeze his side back into the game, Guardiola may well have decided to shut up shop with Fabian Delph and Fernando warming up on the sidelines. Instead, he opted for a more attacking minded duo and they combined impeccably in the final ten minutes to secure a convincing result.
Finding himself one on one with Shay Given with just five minutes of time left on the clock, Iheanacho rounded the 40-year-old, cut back and squared to Nolito who tapped in to seal the three points. Iheanacho was again terrific in the fourth, fooling his man with an intelligent dummy that saw the ball trickle through to Sterling. The Englishman, displaying the same selflessness his Nigerian team-mate had just moments before, shuffled the ball across to Nolito who netted his second.
Pep has certainly introduced a new style of play to the side but one of the changes that has caught my eye the most is the composure we’re now demonstrating in the final third. In this fixture last season placed in the same situation, it’s probable that Iheanacho would have gone for goal himself and that Sterling would have skied over the bar. But there’s a calmness about the attackers in the penalty area now, a sense that the correct decisions will be made to ensure the ball finds its way into the back of the net, even if a few extra touches are required to see that happen. It’s truly refreshing to see.
And there’s poise at the back, too. Enter City’s penalty area and one shall be swiftly shooed away by the shoulder of John Stones. The former Everton man looks as if he’s spent his entire career at City and made a total of 7 clearances in yet another commanding display in the heart of the defence. Unlike Eliaquim Mangala and Nicolas Otamendi who always needed Vincent Kompany alongside them for moral support, Stones has shown that he can command the back four alone. If the 22-year-old was signed as a long term replacement for Kompany, the club are in good hands.
So, another three points for City and another couple of goals for Agüero. Former Chelsea striker Didier Drogba is regarded as one of the best Premier League strikers of all time – he scored 104 goals in 254 games for them. Agüero’s perfectly directed header this afternoon saw him equal Drogba’s tally, but he’s done it 102 fewer games. Under Guardiola and free of injury, world class Agüero should be targeting a goal a game for us this term.