REPEATING THE TRICK: MANCHESTER CITY SEASON FORETASTE - Soul 2 Soul Mates Blog

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8/07/2018

REPEATING THE TRICK: MANCHESTER CITY SEASON FORETASTE


REPEATING THE TRICK: MANCHESTER CITY SEASON FORETASTE
The Football Lab spoke to Manchester City fan Mike Holdenabout the upcoming  2018-19 Premier League season


There have been various Manchester City teams this century that have won titles in dramatic circumstances, or by out-scoring the opposition. Was it the sheer dominance of the class of 2017-18 that sets them apart?

Yes, it was extraordinary. Fans were well aware of what Pep Guardiola had done at his previous clubs and while it was irritating to put up with sections of the media belittling what he achieved with Barcelona and Bayern Munich, I don’t think any of us believed he would tear it up in this country the way he did. It was all very reminiscent of the Kevin Keegan team that clocked up 100 points and 100 goals in 2002, except that was in the Championship. You’re not supposed to do that in the Premier League.

A word for Pep Guardiola: there were many people, including myself, that suggested he would have to adapt his approach. How much credit does he deserve for sticking to his principles?

I don’t think he would have even considered it as a choice. If he compromises on his principles, he dilutes his personality and everything he stands for. I totally believe he would have happily finished fifth last season, held his hands up and said “sorry guys, this isn’t working” rather than change the things he believes in. People mistake that conviction for arrogance but that’s just the type of bloke he is. Everything has to be done a certain way, otherwise he loses his passion for the project.

Normally, when a goalkeeper gets the ball it’s almost a cue for the opposition to take a mini-breather. Was Ederson Moraes’ effective switching of play part of what tired teams out last year?

I think Sean Dyche put it best when he said it’s like having Ronald Koeman in goal. He’s one of those players you don’t fully appreciate on the telly. Watch him in the flesh, being closed down in a tight space by an athletic centre forward, and it’s jaw-dropping just how calm he is. The Tottenham game at home stands out as one where he was actually used as a playmaker. He started attacks with about three or four delicious 50-yard diagonal passes. Actual passes.

There were a lot of games last season in which you didn’t necessarily need to defend due to the midfield dominance. If teams are able to improve their use of the ball against you, how do you see the likes of John Stones and Nicolas Otamendi faring?

Our centre backs will only ever be as good as the system allows them to be. If something isn’t quite right ahead of them, they will be the ones who pay the price and look like mugs. Like Guardiola said in his first year, “I don’t coach tackles”. So their job isn’t to tackle, it’s to make themselves available to receive possession at all times and that sometimes means looking woefully out of position when possession breaks down. I don’t doubt for a moment that Stones, Otamendi and Kompany can all be got at. But it takes a lot of bravery to venture that far up the pitch.

Kyle Walker seemed to give you that bit more pace and drive going forward last season. Are you confident he’ll be fresh after the World Cup?

He’s rapid and you also get the impression that he’s one of the biggest characters in the dressing room. He’s a bit of an elder statesman at 28 and he’s more vocal than David Silva, Sergio Agüero, Yaya Toure (previously) and even Kevin De Bruyne (initially). Guardiola wanted a few more outgoing personalities, so I think Walker will continue to be a big asset in that regard even if he’s a bit leggy in the first few weeks. I wouldn’t expect any World Cup hangover to last much longer than September, though. That goes for all of them.

Fabian Delph and Oleksandar Zinchenko are midfielders by trade while Danilo is right-footed. Given Benjamin Mendy’s injury issues, could you run short on classic left-backs?

Again, I think this is where ‘the system’ covers the shortcomings of individuals. By rights, we should have struggled last season without Mendy but Delph and Zinchenko came in and did well because they understood the intricacies of the system rather than the intricacies of the position. Imagine how good we might be in that area now we’ve got a specialist left back, that’s the way I prefer to look at it. I’ve only seen Mendy whip in a couple of crosses through that corridor of uncertainty between the keeper and centre backs but they were De Bruyne-esque, which means we might now have those sorts of balls coming in from both sides.

Fernandinho had an excellent season last year but he’s now 33. After Jorginho didn’t sign, are you on the hunt for a long-term replacement? Could Douglas Luiz be that man?

I’m not sure about the alternatives at this stage but it was a blow to miss out on Jorginho, and there’s no doubt that will be cited as the key reason among City fans why we failed to win the title if that’s how it pans out. But the club has a policy that they don’t go back to the negotiating table once a deal has been agreed and I think they’re right to stick by that rule even if that means you start a new season weaker in one area than you would have liked. The end of the Guardiola era will start the day we sign a player that wouldn’t walk over hot coals to play for him and Jorginho evidently didn’t want to play for him enough, so we move on.

Most teams are only brave enough to field one playmaker but Guardiola started Kevin De Bruyne and David Silva together last season. Of course it helps that both are brilliant, but was there a sense that opponents didn’t know how to bottle one of them up without letting the other wriggle free?

People say Guardiola isn’t a pragmatist but, to me, this is an example of him at his pragmatic best. He has these two amazing playmakers at his disposal and rather than compromise by playing one out wide to accommodate an extra holding midfielder, he has struck upon a formation that fits both into the middle and he has built everything else around that. Not because he wants to show off but because he knows how much it will trouble the opposition, both mentally and tactically. It’s a measured decision. Pragmatism doesn’t always have to be negative, it’s about what gives you the best results when you balance everything out.

Brahim Diaz and Phil Foden got a few opportunities last year. Are you hoping to see more of either of them?

It would be certainly be nice but it’s not something to get hung up about just yet. I think the club is going to do everything in its power to give both of them the best possible chance of becoming first-team regulars – Foden, especially, as a Stockport lad who is City through and through. But given what we’ve just said about Silva and De Bruyne, where do you play them? Silva’s 32 now, so he might only have a couple of years left and I think many see Foden as the natural long-term replacement. He’ll probably pinch a few more minutes this season than last, but we’re probably still 2-3 years away from him becoming a regular in the starting line-up.

Guardiola switched between two excellent central forwards in Sergio Aguero and Gabriel Jesus last year. It must help you, having that strength in depth across multiple competitions?

It’s both a blessing and a curse. We were lucky last season because we rarely had them both fit at the same time, and when one dropped out with an injury the other was usually ready to return. But when they’re both fit, you’ve got a headache because neither is happy to sit on the bench and nor should they be. That’s just the way strikers are. They live in the moment, they don’t always see the bigger picture. They judge themselves on scoring goals this week and next, so they get disgruntled quicker than other players. If both players return fully fit, we won’t even reach October before reports surface about one of them wanting to leave.

Riyad Mahrez signs from Leicester, but he looks a slightly different type of wide forward to Leroy Sane and Raheem Sterling in that he’s not quite as patient in holding the width. How do you think this will impact on the balance of the front-line?

I’m not really sure what to expect but I guess it will be horses for courses in those wide areas with Mahrez, Sterling, Sane and Bernardo Silva all bringing something slightly different to the party and two of them getting the nod on any given day, according to how they suit the opposition. The rest of it is virtually set in stone, it’s just those wide areas where the flexibility exists to change things up if necessary. But Mahrez is an outstanding player, so I’m obviously looking forward to him producing match-winning moments. We are spoilt nowadays, there’s no doubt about it.

City aside, what are your thoughts ahead of the Premier League season as a whole? How do you rate your competitors?

I think this will be the season when Liverpool overtake United as the biggest threat to City. They’ve been posting the better underlying performance data for 2-3 years now but there’s also a mental aspect to it where both sides must accept the pecking order and that hasn’t arrived yet. Tottenham will be Tottenham, punching above their resources but not getting the credit they deserve because they have no silverware to show for it, and I think both Chelsea and Arsenal might need a season under new management before we see them ready to return to the top four.

Where will you finish?

Champions. I don’t think it will be anything like as straightforward as last season but 19 points – or 25 in Liverpool’s case – is a hell of a gap to close and I’m not sure it can be done in one season. We just need to make sure we have a cushion of some sort going into New Year because a genuine challenge from either United or Liverpool would see us come under intense pressure from all sides. The media would be pulling out all the stops to ramp things up in favour of the old guard.

The Football Lab’s Verdict

Manchester City were outstanding last season and Guardiola should be commended for bringing innovative ideas to English football. No reigning champion though has retained the title for nine years and The Citizens have only added Riyad Mahrez to a senior squad that had 16 players away at the World Cup. City will therefore start to integrate more exciting, young talents, but they might not dominate in quite the same way. 3rd





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