Venue: Etihad Stadium
Date: 12 August 2016
Referee: Bobby Madley
Kick off: 17:30
I suspect there’s very little that could bring restlessness to the knees of Sheikh Mansour and his two hardened henchmen Txiki Begiristain and Ferran Soriano, but the sight of Pep Guardiola making his Premier League bow tomorrow evening may well cause a wobble or two. This picture, after all, is a masterpiece club officials have been applying delicate brushstrokes to since 2012. This, for now, is the final piece of the puzzle and, well, you wouldn’t want to be in their shoes if things go tits up from here.
The pressure on two-time Champions League winner Guardiola, and the men who employed him, is huge. Not that Pep is fazed, mind you. From Stone Island jumpers to John Stones, the new manager plans to attack his first season in English football with a cool head and a much fresher squad than the one that decayed so rapidly throughout the 2015/2016 campaign. The arrival of İlkay Gündoğan, Leroy Sané, Nolito and Stones means City have shaved their average squad age from 29.0 at the end of last season to 27.1. Marlos Moreno and Gabriel Jesus will see that number drop even further when they join up with the squad after their loan spells at Palmeiras and Deportivo de La Coruña expire.
“I love to work with young players,” remarked Pep in his first press conference at the club. For academy prospects Tosin Adarabioyo, Aleix García and Pablo Maffeo those words could literally be worth a million bucks if they fulfill the potential Guardiola sees in them. The trio were impressive on City’s brief tour of China and having seen Guardiola unhesitatingly promote Sergio Busquets and Pedro from Barcelona B to the first team in 2008, they’ll be hopeful of acquiring some Premier League minutes this season. Those words are also a sign of things to come. Forget the established elite walking through the CFA doors in the next three years; Guardiola, almost selfishly, wants to be the man chiseling the stone into the diamond on the training pitches.
The older guard are feeling the benefit, too. Fernandinho and Gaël Clichy have been the club’s chief spokesmen since the Spaniards arrival and have lauded his impact. “It’s a great experience to play in different positions and to be taught by a great coach like Pep Guardiola,” Fernandinho told the official site, while Clichy was quick to praise the manager for enforcing strict dietary rules on the players. Pizza is no longer on the menu, much to Samir Nasri’s displeasure.
City plan to hand Guardiola special welcome tomorrow that may resemble the display they put on to unveil the South Stand this time last year. If it were up to me, a huge Guardiola mosaic would go down a treat. And if that’s impossible, one that reads ‘Kolarov Out’ wouldn’t be bad either. Quite how Txiki has managed to fend off the lure of Real Madrid and Bayern Munich in his pursuits of Sané and Gabriel Jesus but not sell Kolarov is beyond me, unless, of course, the Serbian mafia are involved. But if the spectacularly bad long-range misfirer is to stay another season, please don’t play him at centre back.
Guardiola’s first task will be to beat a Sunderland side that escaped the drop by just two points in May. The man who steered them to safety, Sam Allardyce, has been rewarded for his work with a position at the helm of the England national squad, but the fella replacing him will be looking to prevent the Black Cats flirting with relegation for the fourth consecutive year. David Moyes was quite obviously crushed by the weight of expectation and pressure at Old Trafford but should thrive in an environment where much less is expected of him. And with Adnan Januzaj, Paddy McNair and Donald Love following the former United gaffer to the North East, there is too much United at that club for me to be confident of – what should be – a straightforward victory for us tomorrow.
John Stones who, incidentally, was Moyses’s last signing at Everton is expected to make his debut in a back line that could include Bacary Sagna, Clichy and 18-year-old Mancunian Adarabioyo, though predicting Guardiola’s starting XI is proving to be an impossible task for writers across the world with City’s squad still so under-cooked from a ropy pre-season. Sergio Agüero is a shoe in to lead the line and Kevin De Bruyne, Raheem Sterling and Nolito would be my picks to line up just behind him. Sané and Gündoğan miss out through injury, while Nicolas Otamendi faces a late fitness test.
As for Sunderland, they will be without Sebastian Larsson, Lee Cattermole, Jan Kirchoff and Billy Jones. The ex-United trio mentioned previously, however, are all in the squad, meaning one of them is bound to score.
Guardiola has reiterated his intention to ‘learn’ while coaching in England. Let’s hope his first lesson is a positive one about the ability of his squad, rather than one about the perplexing unpredictability of the Premier League.
Predict the score:
[statsfc-score-predictor key=”D8SJIk7F6vySBuDaFQRSHy11xfbyCt18uXRinj2b” team=”Man City” date=”2016-08-12″ default_css=”true”]