Saturday in the Premiership was a tale of two Cities. The champions, Leicester City, were somewhat diffident and had issues at the back that coach Claudio Ranieri will need to deal with. The aspirants, Manchester City, were far perfect but quelled Sunderland’s challenge.
Pep Guardiola’s debut in the Premiership couldn’t have been better than with an early penalty conceded by Patrick van Aanholt who felled Raheem Sterling and Sergio Aguero said ‘thank you.’ But though Manchester City kept possession --- Guardiola would want nothing else --- it didn’t translate into the light blue shirts being very creative. But then, this is only the first match.
Guardiola lives the Johan Cruyff motto that football is essentially played in the head; the body merely facilitates the process. But it won’t be that City players assimilate all he has to offer this soon. Hence, it is possible he wouldn’t be too displeased with what City dished out even though Sunderland ended it better than how they began.
Writing in The Guardian, former Spain and Barcelona talisman Xavi mentioned that Guardiola is excellent at synthesising information. He is known to spend hours watching videos of opponents but, according to Xavi, the instructions are pithy. According to Franck Ribery, they are anything but so maybe the jury is still out on that.
The Guardiola at Barcelona, who embellished what Cruyff built, preferred playing in a certain way. The Guardiola at Bayern evolved in the way he used the width of the pitch. This team has the very gifted Sterling but in the attacking axis that was formed between David Silva, sitting deep in Andrea Pirlo territory, and Nolito on the left, maybe we are seeing City build something.
That is best left to time. What is not is the future of Joe Hart who was seen chewing gum with Willy Caballero in goal. Exactly where England’s top goalie goes could be the talking point till the transfer window closes this month. Ditto Yaya Toure who was fit but wasn’t even a substitute. Years ago, Guardiola traded him for Sergio Busquets. Saturday showed that he hasn’t seen anything yet to make him change his mind.
That he gave Jesus Navas some time though showed the wide right player could have some time yet at City. Navas’ delivery setting up the winning goal wouldn’t do his immediate future any harm.
In their first match, City played nearly six times as many passes as Sunderland who did equalise through Jermaine Defoe. It will be a while before City get to play how Guardiola wants them but a fairly comfortable win, the margin of which could have been increased had Kelechi Iheanacho not ballooned over, may not be a bad way to start. And that Sunderland could actually have stolen a point but for Paddy McNair’s own goal is something Guardiola is surely going to take lessons from.