Opinions

Five Things We Have Learnt From The Start Of Manchester City’s Season

There’s A New Philosophy At The Club (and Pep Is His Own Man)

A manager under pressure faced with picking a side for a derby match normally does one thing, and one thing alone – he picks his strongest side available, even if it is a “Mickey Mouse” Cup.

Jose Mourinho is proof of this.

But off the longest run without a victory in his managerial career, Pep Guardiola had other ideas, and played a weakened side in the EFL Cup that saw City slip to a 1-0 defeat.

It’s probably an exaggeration to say we have learned that Pep is his own man, as we kinda knew that already, but we certainly have no doubts now. To be crystal clear, he will do things his way, with the players he wants, will jettison anyone who doesn’t fit in with this plan and will not change his ways, however many bumps there are along the way. Not many managers would have got rid of Joe Hart, nor sent Yaya Toure into exile. No City player is guaranteed a future in this team, and Pep clearly does not shirk from making unpopular decisions.

And whilst he received widespread criticism for the team he sent out at Old Trafford (a decision I don’t entirely agree with), I have great respect for him sticking to his guns and ignoring the cries of the media, the criticism, and the likes of Robbie Savage telling him what he should do next. Our owners did not spend four years chasing Pep Guardiola for him to then abandon his principles, so you’ll just have to get used to those bumps along the way. There is a distinct philosophy at the club now, that dictates how every team, at every level, plays, and if it means no shots on target in a Manchester derby, then so be it. It’s a philosophy that is going to take time.

New Philosophies Are Nerve-Racking

And so with that new philosophy comes a new style, a style that demands domination of the ball, and thus as a consequence requires playing the ball out from the back, whenever possible. This has led to a continual state of panic and alopecia amongst a significant section of the City faithful. Yes, we’re stuck in our ways. A goalkeeper is there to stop shots and a defender under pressure should “get rid”, preferably into Row Z. This is English football, it’s what we grew up with, and we’re quite happy with it, thanks. Well tough, cos there’s a new guy in town, there’s new guys in quite a few towns, and “times they are a changin”.

And it makes sense, apart from when we gift goals to the opposition. A goalkeeper is redundant most of the match, so to utilise him as an extra outfield player is logical, should lead to dominating possession, overloading players, and creating pockets of space for our players to exploit. But it will take time, and until the telepathy is there between players who are used to playing together, there will be more anxious moments to come. Start perfecting your comb-over.

A Crisis Is Easy To Come By

The vultures are circling over the manager of the team that is currently top of the Premier League and in a qualifying position in the Champions League. Yes, it doesn’t take much for the doubts to emerge and the confidence to wane. For the rumours to start circulating and for players to be linked with Real Madrid. Again.

We’ve come quite far as a club for Real Madrid to even know who our players are, so we should be flattered I guess. But the point is that we’ve been through this before, every single season, at some point. Thirty years of failure and a press pack that needs a story means that any blip, any drop in form, will always be exaggerated to resemble a relegation dogfight. Stay calm, and trust in Pep. The bald fraud.

But in the same way that the initial ten-match run of victories did not tell the whole story of how the team was evolving, neither did the run without them. A scratch side against United, fuelled by refereeing incompetence, a dominant display against Everton ruined by poor penalties and a goalkeeper having the game of his life, and individual mistakes littered around that have cost City many points have all led us to this point. Pep has work to do, but a crisis it is not, and four goals later at the Hawthorns, City remain top of the Premier League.

The Need For New Full Backs Is Not Going Away

The wonderful display by Pablo Maffeo at Old Trafford has certainly given us all food for thought, but it cannot be denied that the failure to strengthen the full back area could cost City dear this season.

I had hoped that Pablo Zabaleta’s legs would fire up for one more season at least, once his move away was happily aborted and whilst he has not been a disaster, he is not the player of old.

For a month or so Kolarov was transformed into a hybrid of Bobby Moore and Franco Baresi, but that was at centre-half, and it was never going to last. Old Kolarov is back now, firing shots and free kicks wildly over the bar, but is still performing better than I feared. Clichy is a good player, Sagna too, but injury has hit him and collectively it is an ageing set of players. Guardiola’s system will flourish more with pacey, dynamic full backs, and it is little wonder we have been linked to Bellerin.

Pep couldn’t change a whole team in one summer, and I wasn’t too concerned with the situation when the season started, but there can be little doubt that this is an area that he will be concentrating on in the next summer transfer window, if not before.

No One Will Run Away With The League

City were not widely predicted to win the league this year by the “media”, but they soon reversed quicker than a Liverpool trophy parade bus after that initial run. Now they don’t know what to think.

This is the closest title chase in the Premier League’s 25 year history (at this stage of the season), and it’s no fluke. There are a number of teams that have a valid claim on being title contenders this season, and it could be a thrilling seven months. Inevitably the odd team or two will fall away, but it’s hard to say at this stage which teams that will be, and even Manchester United, the gift that keeps on giving, cannot be discarded just yet.

But for City, to win the league this season would be a huge statement of intent, as I can only see further improvement in the seasons to come. Goal difference could be vital once more, as this could go to the wire.

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