As the Premier League returned, the neutral fan was rewarded by the first two live games which produced 13 goals between them amidst a fair distribution of comical defending. Arsenal and Liverpool spent much of last season with an attack-minded philosophy based, at times, on a ‘we’ll score one more than you’ mentality and that approach carried across to their respective first matches.
In contrast, Manchester City’s 2-0 win over Brighton on Saturday evening was a rather subdued affair in the wake of those goal-laden fixtures but the only spectators not complaining would have been City fans. In truth, Pep Guardiola’s new look defence had little to do at the Amex Stadium but the nature of a routine victory suggests that the manager has strengthened in the right areas.
Last season Manchester City scored 80 goals but conceded 39; 13 more than second placed Spurs and six more than Champions Manchester City. That may not look a concerning figure from the outside, but after two seasons of issues at the back it was time for key areas to be addressed.
Following Saturday’s games, City remained favourites at 13/10 with bet365 in the outright Premier League betting markets and it’s a tighter defence that will be key to whether Guardiola’s men can deliver at that price. That strengthening was vital and it starts right at the very back.
Outside observers may still question why the club is happy to allow England’s first choice keeper to leave on loan to another Premier League side. That question could be answered in part by pointing to some of Joe Hart’s high profile errors both for club and country. Claudio Bravo did little to settle any nerves last season but can the new incumbent between the sticks bring calm among the chaos?
The Seagulls had just two shots on target and overall it was a quiet 90 minutes for new keeper Ederson. Signed from Benfica in the summer, City fans would have noted his flapped attempt to deal with a second half cross but overall he seemed composed at the back and this was an encouraging start.
While Ederson was barely tested, it was a busy afternoon for his fellow new signing Kyle Walker who posed a threat throughout as he dominated the right flank for the visitors. Walker was accused of poor distribution from Spurs supporters as he departed North London but there may have been an element of truth in that previously and a small improvement in that area would lead to an exciting campaign at the Etihad.
Vincent Kompany, John Stones and Nicolas Otamendi completed a solid performance at the back while the key difference came in midfield with Kevin De Bruyne – the Man of the Match – as City remained patient, breaking Brighton resistance in the second half.
With both Merseyside clubs heading to the Etihad for City’s first two home fixtures, there will be greater tests to come and by the middle of September, fans will have a clearer idea of the qualities of this new-look defence.
39 goals conceded last time may not look like a dreadful statistic but it does mask certain issues at the back and Pep’s summer tweaks appear promising at this admittedly early stage.