Manchester City 3 West Ham United 1
Sunday 28th August 2016 : GYKO at the Etihad
This game featured much less of the Manchester City full‑backs
moving inside, a ploy of Pep Guardiola’s that was first sighted when
Sunderland were defeated in the season opener at the Etihad Stadium.
Instead, the Catalan secured a third consecutive Premier League
victory by implementing a more old‑fashioned strategy. First, Raheem
Sterling slotted home after a Nolito pull-back, then Fernandinho
thumped a header past Adrián from Kevin De Bruyne’s free-kick before
Sterling dispatched the ball into an empty net at the death.
At his unveiling in early July Guardiola had insisted that it would
be “presumptuous” to think he could fashion a change in English
football. Cut to that 2-1 victory against Sunderland and the sight
of Bacary Sagna and Gaël Clichy becoming midfielders when City
attacked suggested the City coach was being modest.
Guardiola’s message had been to forget any notion of him being a
revolutionary. “To come to the country which created football and
believe you have to change something would be a little bit
presumptuous,” he said.
Yet come this match, City’s fifth outing under the Catalan, the
question being asked was how Slaven Bilic, the West Ham United
manager, would deal with a tactic that has become an eye‑catching
part of City’s approach under Guardiola and one which is new to most
managers on these shores.
Bilic fielded three centre-backs and two wing-backs in order to
create a five-man defence. In theory this put greater emphasis on
Pablo Zabaleta and Clichy when West Ham attacked, while their coach
might have instructed the wing-backs, Arthur Masuaku and Michail
Antonio, to track the full-backs if they wandered inside.
The problem for Bilic was his team were 1-0 down inside seven
minutes and then two behind after 18, as Sterling and Fernandinho
grabbed their first goals of the season, putting the Croat’s
gameplan under early, intense pressure.
The ploy of moving the full-backs inside was seen soon after
kick-off, with mirroring strands of play: as Guardiola’s men roved
along the left, so Zabaleta moved from the right channel towards the
centre circle; later, when the ball was with a player in a sky-blue
shirt along the opposing corridor, it was Clichy who ran inside.
Of this demand from Guardiola Zabaleta, who is in a ninth season at
City, said: “It’s true we see full-backs running down the wings,
maybe getting to the byline and then crossing the ball before
tracking back to defend. But we are having a different role this
season and sometimes playing more central and being part of the
buildup while quickly returning to the right position when we lose
the ball. “It’s fantastic to learn a new way of playing under a
manager that has been very successful at Barcelona and Bayern Munich
and I hope he can do the same thing here.”
At Bayern, Guardiola used the ploy most notably via David Alaba and
Philipp Lahm in Bayern’s 3-1 victory against Manchester United in a
Champions League quarter‑final tie in April 2014. The approach was
also utilised by Armin Veh’s Hamburg, as Zé Roberto dropped in from
left-back to midfield during the 2010-11 season.
Guardiola claimed on Friday that once the whistle sounds on matchday
all he does is “move my hands”. There were certainly copious amounts
of this action from the manager here, as at times he resembled a
hyperactive semaphore devotee.
At one point Guardiola wildly gesticulated to Willy Caballero to
stand midway inside his half as a sweeper; at another he strode from
the technical area waving an imaginary yellow card when Masuaka
appeared to foul De Bruyne. This was quickly put away when the
referee, Andre Marriner, took out his pen and booked the No30.
If the ploy of moving the full-backs inside was largely eschewed
what was witnessed, particularly after the break, was City being
pulled into a test of character and sheer desire to claim three
points the ugly way.
Opposing managers may study this game to see how their teams can
strive to stymie the Guardiola blueprint. By the same token, though,
he will have learned far more during these 90 minutes than in any of
the other games City have played under his charge.
Entering this game, the aggregate score was 12-2 to City in what had
been four walks in the park for his players. By the close, Sterling
had rolled in a cool finish from a difficult angle to secure all
three points for the hosts. As with Manchester United and Chelsea,
it means City have nine points from three matches and are flying.
And they now know they can win without always having to innovate.
Manchester United are their next opponents. José Mourinho is also a
shrewd tactician. The meeting at Old Trafford on 10 September holds
MAN CITY (4-1-4-1): Cabellero ; Zabaleta ,
Stones (Kolarov 58), Otamendi , Clichy ; Fernandinho ;
Sterling , De Bruyne , Silva , Nolito (Nasri 75); Aguero
(Fernando 87). Booked: Fernandinho. Goals: Sterling 6, 92,
WEST HAM (3-5-2): Adrian ; Ogbonna , Reid
(Calleri 77), Collins ; Antonio , Tore (Byrom 46), Noble ,
Kouyate , Masuaku ; Fletcher , Valencia (Lanzini 60). Booked:
Masuaka, Fletcher, Noble. Goal: Antonio 58.
Referee: A Marriner (West Mids). Att
Manchester City 1 Steaua Bucharest 0
Wednesday 24th August 2016 : GYKO at the
If this is to prove Joe Hart’s
swansong he was given a stylish send-off by Manchester City fans who
left Pep Guardiola with zero doubt regarding their affection for the
29-year-old. On 65 minutes the support sang “Stand up if you love
Joe Hart” and the Etihad Stadium rose to create a moment that was
touching and one the under-pressure goalkeeper may never forget.
It was that kind of night throughout. The actual game was academic
given the 5-0 lead City held over Steaua Bucharest from last week’s
opening leg in Romania. Hart had finally been selected by the
manager for the side’s fourth match of the season, and asked to help
seal a place for City in Thursday’s Champions League group stage
This they duly did, and Guardiola’s choice of captain was classy.
Hart wore the armband as Yaya Touré also made a first appearance of
the season. The Ivorian lined up in an XI that showed eight changes
from Saturday’s 4-1 dismantling of Stoke City.
The evening began with Hart offering a thumbs-up to applauding fans
following his warm-up and cheers from them when his first touch with
a boot proved a sure-footed pass.
As a super-sized banner was unfurled bearing the legend “THIS IS
YOUR CITY” with a picture of Guardiola over a streetscape of
Manchester landmarks, the Catalan’s full-backs were again adopting a
tactic first spotted on opening day here. This featured Gaël Clichy
and the 19-year-old Spaniard Pablo Maffeo, a right-back on debut,
moving infield to become de facto midfielders when City attacked.
Also notable was the near-constant conversation Guardiola had with
John Stones in the opening part of the half. The central defender
took instructions on where and when to pass and was told as
vehemently to relay similar instructions to defensive colleagues.
Stones was also a main channel via which much of City’s play began,
stroking long and short passes around in the manner for which he was
After 25 minutes there had been scant action in either goalmouth.
Nolito managed one volley on the turn, though it was hit weakly at
Valentin Cojocaru in the visiting goal. Later Fabian Delph, who
partnered Fernando in midfield, found space and fired a low shot but
again it failed to trouble the goalkeeper.
Hart did not deal as smoothly with a Steaua corner. When it was
delivered he rose to punch the ball away only to be left flapping as
Touré beat him to it. This was the closest Laurentiu Reghecampf’s
team had come to clawing back one of the five unanswered goals they
required to take this tie into extra time. Three minutes before the
interval Hart mis-controlled a regulation backpass, hardly helping
to support the idea Guardiola is unfairly maligning him for a clumsy
Joe Hart saluted the crowd following a second half in which a string
of songs rang from the stands in appreciation of the Manchester City
goalkeeper. Photograph: Carl Recine/Reuters
The Catalan’s drive for perfection meant he would demand a step up
in quality for the second half. As Hart wandered to the goal before
the south stand he was regaled with “City’s No1” and, wryly, “He’ll
pass when he wants”. There did indeed follow some deft control and
an offload with his right boot, and he watched as seconds later
Stones rose in Steaua’s area. The former Everton man’s header was
wide of Cojocaru’s right post, however.
Eight minutes after the interval Reghecampf made a move, taking off
Adnan Aganovic and Ovidiu Popescu for Adrian Popa and Nicolae
Stanciu, the latter a player who is interesting Premier League
clubs. It did not help Steaua as City promptly roved towards
Cojocaru’s goal and opened the scoring. This was regulation stuff as
Jesús Navas stood the ball up and Delph headed expertly past the
keeper. It was the midfielder’s third goal for the club and took
City to a 6‑0 aggregate lead.
It also meant Guardiola could make his own substitutions and rest
two key men. Off came Nolito for the 19-year-old José Tasende – also
known as Angeliño – and Stones for Tosin Adarabioyo, 18 – both were
making their bows in the competition.
The City manager stopped Stones as he strode past to have yet
another word regarding tactics and in-game strategy, during what was
now a glorified training session. There was also chat with
Aleksandar Kolarov about similar matters during a stop in play
Then came the home faithful taking to their feet to applaud Hart,
the keeper appearing to touch the City crest and showing
understandable emotion. Hart’s concentration held still, though, as
at one point he, fresh from a vote of confidence from England
manager Sam Allardyce, raced out to hoof the ball to safety, and in
another ensured his defence marshalled a rare Steaua attack.
A late injury to Kelechi Iheanacho – he pulled up when chasing a
ball down, and Guardiola later said he does not know how serious the
problem is – was the only sour note. Unless you are Hart, of course,
who acknowledged the stands at length after the final whistle.
Despite the sentiment, deep down he will be hurting.
Man City (4-2-3-1): Hart ; Maffeo , Stones
(Adarabioyo ), Kolarov , Clichy ; Fernando , Toure ; Navas ,
Delph , Nolito (Tasende 57 ); Iheanacho (Fernandinho 76).
Goal: Delph 56.
Steaua (4-2-3-1): Cojocaru ; Mitrea, Tamas ,
Momcilovic , Popescu (Popa 53); Hamroun , Muniru Sulley
(Achim 62); Aganovic (Stanciu 53), Enache , Bourceanu ;
Referee: P Gill (Poland). Attt
Stoke City 1 Manchester City 4
You Wouldn't Bet 365 On It
Saturday 20th August 2016 : Steven McCann at
the Bet365 Stadium for GYKO
It may no
longer be called the Britannia Stadium but this was one of those
days that served as a reminder that the home of Stoke remains an
intimidating venue for visiting opponents. The crowd is boisterous,
the conditions are gusty and the team in red and white are no mugs.
Yet none of that could stop Manchester City from recording a victory
that maintains their perfect start under Pep Guardiola and suggests
they are indeed intent on making their mark on all fronts this
The visitors came through a frantic and full-blooded affair that was
a throwback to the days when Tony Pulis was in charge of Stoke and
those occasions, like last season, when City found themselves
overwhelmed at the ground now known as the bet365 Stadium. But here
City played with poise, grit and a level of ruthlessness that
enabled them largely to dominate proceedings and make it 11 goals
scored in three matches.
Sergio Agüero has six of those having added two goals here to the
one he got against Sunderland on the first day of the season and the
hat-trick he scored in the 5-0 blitz of Steaua Bucharest in midweek.
The opener was a penalty, one of two awarded by the referee, Mike
Dean, who was simply enforcing to the letter the directives issued
prior to the new campaign for officials to be tougher on grappling
inside the area. Ryan Shawcross was penalised for the incident that
led to Agüero opening the scoring, with Raheem Sterling the man
punished prior to Bojan Krkic converting for Stoke shortly after
Dean has developed a reputation for trying to make himself the
centre of attention yet he made the correct call on both incidents
and the only black spot in regards to his performance was his
failure to award Stoke a penalty after Aleksandar Kolarov clearly
fouled Joe Allen inside the City area shortly before half-time. That
could have proved a decisive moment but ultimately the visitors
deserved their victory, one decorated by two late close-range goals
from the substitute Nolito.
“We suffer five minutes after they score but after that they didn’t
create many chances and we had a great performance,” said Guardiola.
“It is impossible to come here and for 90 minutes control the game
but we created a lot and we saw again amazing team spirit.”
There was a clear resilience running through the visitors’ ranks and
perhaps no single moment typified that better than when Jesús Navas
charged back into his own area on 58 minutes to prevent Marko
Arnautovic from having a shot on goal. A player not renowned for his
battling qualities was suddenly transformed into Tony Adams.
And while City may not have performed with the swagger they
displayed against Bucharest there was still much to admire in the
way the team continued to build from the back, the centre-backs John
Stones and Nicolas Otamendi splitting and playing the ball into
midfield where David Silva and Kevin De Bruyne used it with
intelligence and craft. Sterling, meanwhile, continues to dazzle and
watching on from the bench yet again, Joe Hart could only
contemplate what he will be missing should the goalkeeper, as
expected, leave City before the end of the month.
That is not to say Stoke were overwhelmed and for large parts of the
first half they matched City’s high-pressing tactics with their own
desire to regain the ball and use it progressively, typified best by
Allen, who was making his first start for Stoke since arriving from
Liverpool.“We saw the energy and understanding of his game,” said
Mark Hughes of the Wales midfielder. “I was pleased he was able to
Stoke’s battling was undone on 27 minutes when Shawcross was spotted
grabbing Otamendi’s arm as the Argentinian looked to connect with De
Bruyne’s corner. Agüero sent Shay Given the wrong way from the spot
– a form of redemption given the striker missed two penalties in
midweek – and scored again nine minutes later after glancing in De
Bruyne’s free-kick from an unmarked position inside the six-yard
The hosts went from fired-up to frustrated and even more so after
Dean failed to spot Kolarov’s man-handling of Allen. Yet they were
back in the match on 49 minutes after the referee this time spotted
an infringement by a City player - Sterling put his hands on
Shawcross as he attacked an Allen corner, and while the contact was
minimal it was an infringement.
“We know the directives and last year those penalties would not have
been awarded,” said Hughes. “As long as the referees are consistent
I haven’t got an issue with that but from experience I doubt that
will be the case.”
Guardiola described the penalty decisions as “a little strange” yet
ultimately he departed from here a happy man. “It is impossible to
say what we can achieve but in the short time together, they [the
players] show me how intelligent they are,” he said. “They have a
lot of quality.”
Stoke: Given, Bardsley , Shawcross , Wollscheid
, Pieters ; Whelan , Imbula (Walters 72, ); Bojan , Allen ,
Arnautovic (Ramadan, 88); Diouf .
Manchester City: Caballero ; Zabaleta , Stones ,
Otamendi , Kolarov ; Fernandinho ; Navas (Nolito 69 ), De
Bruyne (Delph, 88), Silva, Sterling , Aguero (Iheanacho 83)
Referee- Mike Dean
Steaua Bucharest 0 Manchester City 5
Tuesday 16th August 2016 : Barry McGuin for
GYKO at Stadionul Național
By the end, the only possible disappointment for Manchester City was
that they might have to look for a new penalty-taker as well as a
goalkeeper. Ultimately, though, did it matter a jot? Pep Guardiola’s
team were so superior, so fluent in possession and brilliant on the
eye, it turned out Sergio Agüero could miss twice from the spot and
it was worthy only of a place in the small print.
Before the superlatives start to flow, perhaps it should be taken
into account that Steaua Bucharest were generous opponents for a
team with a new manager to impress. All the same, this was the kind
of performance that made it absolutely clear why City were so
obsessed with the idea of bringing Guardiola to the Etihad Stadium.
City toyed with their opponents in the way that Barcelona did under
Guardiola, and Bayern Munich, too. They could have scored many more
and the night was summed up by the standing ovation that swept round
Romania’s national stadium after Agüero’s second and third goals had
completed the scoring. City had outclassed the home side in every
department and, six weeks into his reign, Guardiola had overseen a
victory that equals the club record in Europe. Agüero had turned a
possible ordeal into a hat-trick performance and the crowd wanted to
show their appreciation. “Amazing” was the word Guardiola used.
Guardiola’s team certainly succeeded in switching the emphasis away
from Joe Hart, left out again in favour of Willy Caballero, and
reminding their audience it is usually a good policy to trust this
manager. In the process, they made the return leg next Wednesday
feel like a formality – even Hart might get a game – and as a
measure of their performance it is no exaggeration to say Florin
Nita, Steaua’s goalkeeper, had authentic credentials to be
recognised as the game’s outstanding performer.
Agüero has now missed four out of his past five penalties in
European games and, though he converted one against Sunderland at
the weekend, it will be intriguing to see whether he continues in
the role. “I’m confident if he’s confident,” Guardiola said,
indicating he would leave it to Agüero to decide. What can be said
with certainty, however, is that it was a brilliant reaction from
this expert finisher. Another striker might have let those misses
fester. Agüero simply shook his head clear and responded with a
hat-trick of right-foot shots.
The Argentinian had looked crestfallen earlier in the match, raising
both hands to apologise after his penalty misses either side of
David Silva opening the scoring. The second one flew over the
crossbar. The first was saved by Nita and, for a while, Agüero could
have been forgiven for wondering how costly those misses might be.
City could conceivably have had a 3-0 lead inside the opening 21
minutes but Agüero quickly set about showing that he would not let
self-doubt creep in. It was a beautifully angled finish for City’s
second goal and his reaction to the earlier disappointments spoke
volumes for the player’s character. From that point onwards, there
was never any doubt about City being in the Champions League draw.
There was certainly plenty to admire about the way Guardiola’s team
passed the ball and, again, encouraging signs of Raheem Sterling’s
renascent form. Sterling not only laid on the passes for the first
two goals but it was his speed and trickery that led to Miniru
Sulley giving away the first penalty. It was a neat layoff for
Agüero’s first goal and some brilliantly alert play, in the 13th
minute, to dispossess Alin Tosca, sprint clear then pick out Silva
for the opening goal.
By half-time, City could also reflect on numerous other chances to
reward their superiority. Guardiola, however, was not entirely
enamoured of what he saw and strode on the pitch to remonstrate with
Nicolás Otamendi after the whistle had gone. Otamendi has a habit of
diving into challenges and Guardiola even gave his player a little
jab in the ribs. “I don’t like my central defenders going down,” he
Overall, though, his team were outclassing the Romanians, epitomised
by the flowing move that led to Gabriel Enache bringing down
Aleksandar Kolarov for the second penalty and, four minutes into the
second half, the exchange of passes that culminated in Nolito going
round Nita to score his first goal in City’s colours.
The link-up play between Kevin De Bruyne, Silva and Agüero was
wonderful at times and the night tarnished only by the Steaua coach,
Laurentiu Reghecampf, complaining Fernandinho should have been sent
off for a challenge that left Bojan Golubovic with a suspected
broken cheek. Agüero made it 4-0 with another precise finish in the
78th minute and then completed his hat-trick with a shot that went
in off a post. The crowd stood to acclaim what they had seen and
City’s small band of supporters must have been exhilarated by what
it promises for the future.
Steaua: Niță, Tamaş, Hamroun, Stanciu,
Muniru Sulley (67 Popescu), Toşca, Achim (46 Bourceanu), Golubović
(46 Tudorie), Momčilović, Enache, Popa.
Subs not used: Cojocaru, Mitrea, Aganovic, Popescu.
Man City: Caballero, Zabaleta (70 Sagna), Otamendi, Stones,
Kolarov (75 Clichy), Fernandinho, De Bruyne (79 Fernando), Silva,
Nolito, Sterling, Aguero.
Subs not used: Hart, Delph, Navas, Iheanacho.
Referee: Daniele Orsato
Manchester City 2 Sunderland 1
Saturday 13th August 2016 : GYKO at the Etihad
After waiting so long to usher in Pep Guardiola, with his reputation
for bewitching football and a master plan based on worldwide
domination, it is probably fair to say Manchester City may have
expected more from his first game. They won, courtesy of an
87th-minute own goal, but the revolution is clearly going to need
time and it was difficult not to pity David Moyes and his Sunderland
players given how close they came to turning Guardiola’s grand
entrance into an ordeal. “I realise now how difficult it is,” was
the verdict from the former Barcelona and Bayern Munich manager.
Guardiola’s body language on the touchline certainly did not offer
the impression of a man who liked what he saw and there was a
considerable element of fortune about the game’s decisive moment
when Paddy McNair, one of the Sunderland substitutes, turned a
right-wing cross into his own net. McNair had been on the pitch only
four minutes and, having just signed from Manchester United, the
Northern Ireland international will have to hope the rest of his
Sunderland career is a less harrowing experience.
His new team-mates can be desperately disappointed bearing in mind
the way they refused to capitulate following Sergio Agüero’s early
penalty, culminating in Jermain Defoe turning in a 71st-minute
equaliser to move to joint 10th on the list of all-time Premier
Defoe has 144 top-division goals and, with a touch more ambition,
Sunderland might actually have put more pressure on Willy Caballero,
City’s occasionally accident-prone goalkeeper, on a traumatic day
for Joe Hart that saw him relegated to the bench. All summer there
have been rumours Guardiola has misgivings about the England
international. His team selection provided the hard evidence and
there have to be doubts now about whether Hart will remain at the
Yaya Touré could also be forgiven if he were filled with insecurity,
considering he did not even merit a place among Guardiola’s
substitutes and there were times when the club’s supporters must
have felt slightly dizzy trying to keep up with all the changes.
Guardiola had tweaked City’s tactics in a number of ways and, having
started with a 4-1-4-1 formation, it was fascinating to see the
switch to 3-2-4-1 when they were attacking.
Those were moments during the match when Fernandinho dropped back
from midfield to play in between John Stones and Aleksandar Kolarov
as an additional centre-half. Bacary Sagna and Gaël Clichy,
full-backs by trade, moved inside to become converted midfielders
and the other five outfield players pressed forward. No other side
in English football plays this way.
It is plainly a work in progress and Guardiola will have to hope his
players are intelligent enough to understand what he wants because,
if so, it feels as if a slick, sophisticated operation is being put
in place. This, however, was not the day it gelled, or even close.
Sunderland have not won any of their opening Premier League fixtures
since 2009 but the visiting players also had a new manager to
impress and they knocked the ball around confidently at times. It
also felt like a good time to encounter City when the home side had
a new-look defence, a different set of tactics to negotiate and a
goalkeeper trying to justify his selection and prove he can be
The harsh reality for Guardiola is that Hart and Caballero are both
error-prone and, having preferred the Argentinean, there were a
couple of anxious moments in the first half when the goalkeeper’s
misplaced kicks threatened his own team. Caballero, to give him his
due, also kept out Defoe with a smart reflex save but the most
effective goalkeepers have a presence that inspires confidence and
he has rarely shown that during his time in Manchester.
On a brighter note for City there were encouraging signs Raheem
Sterling has reacted positively to Guardiola’s arrival. Sterling was
operating in a new role on the right and it was his run that led to
Patrick van Aanholt conceding the penalty after only three minutes.
Sterling had cut inside Van Aanholt and the full-back’s sliding
challenge, at full speed, was mistimed and risky. Agüero aimed his
shot low and hard to Vito Mannone’s right and, though the goalkeeper
dived the correct way, he was beaten by the accuracy and power.
For the remainder of the match, the surprising part was how slow
everything seemed. Stones had an accomplished display but Nolito
rarely threatened on the left wing and Kevin De Bruyne was strangely
subdued. Sunderland had Donald Love making his debut at right-back.
Lamine Koné excelled at centre-back despite all the hullaballoo
about his future and Moyes had Lynden Gooch, on loan at Doncaster
Rovers last season, in midfield. Yet the team who finished fourth
from bottom last season held their own and it was rare to see City,
with David Silva captaining the team, creating so few chances on
their own ground.
Defoe’s goal was a typically astute piece of centre-forward play,
running on to Jack Rodwell’s through ball before slipping his shot
beneath Caballero, and Sunderland did not deserve the misfortune
that turned the match back in favour of the home side. Jesús Navas,
a 59th-minute replacement for Nolito, drilled in the cross and the
ball flicked off Mannone, struck McNair and ricocheted into the net.
Guardiola had his first win, just not in the style that might have
Manchester City: Caballero Sagna Kolarov Stones Clichy Iheanacho 80’
Silva Delph 64’ Luiz Rosa De Bruyne Agudo Durán Navas 59’ Sterling
Unused subs: Zabaleta, Reges, Otamendi, Hart
Sunderland: Mannone Koné Love van Aanholt Kaboul Gooch Khazri 65’
O'Shea Rodwell Watmore Januzaj 64’ Borini Defoe McNair 83’
Unused subs: Asoro, Lens, Pickford, Djilobodji
Referee Bobby Madley