How Pep Guardiola turned Man City into convincing Premier League champions

Pep Guardiola has formed a close bond with his players and got them fully believing in his methods. (AFP)
Updated 15 April 2018
0

How Pep Guardiola turned Man City into convincing Premier League champions

  • The current lead of 16 points is one of the biggest in the league’s history
  • Spaniard has produced most stunning brand of football ever seen in English football

MANCHESTER: What do you get when you combine the world’s most coveted coach, financial backers with bottomless pockets, and the most talented group of players in the country?
Answer: One of the most ruthless, convincing title triumphs in the 26-year history of the Premier League.
Manchester City wrapped up the title on Sunday when Manchester United, the nearest challenger, surprisingly lost 1-0 at home to West Bromwich Albion. City leads by 16 points with five games still to play.
A side meticulously molded and prepared by Pep Guardiola won a record 18 straight Premier League games from August to late December, and they’ve put up plenty more impressive numbers.
Eighty-seven points, 93 goals, a goal difference of plus 68, 28 wins from 33 games. The current lead of 16 points is one of the biggest in the league’s history.
Guardiola didn’t win a trophy in his first season at City. His reaction? To spend $260 million of the club’s Abu Dhabi owners’ riches in the offseason, upgrade and tweak the weakest parts of the team, and deliver arguably the most stunning brand of football ever seen in English soccer.
Here’s a look at how Guardiola achieved the turnaround:

MOMENTUM
The blueprint for this season’s record-breaking success was laid in the second half of last season, when Pep Guardiola found his formula.
Largely sticking to a 4-3-3 formation with Leroy Sane and Raheem Sterling as wingers, Guardiola dispensed completely with his occasional use of a three-man defense. City lost just two of its last 24 games in all competitions from the middle of January last year, providing momentum to take into the 2017-18 campaign.
Throw in some key summer signings and some tactical tinkering, and City has proved to be unstoppable.

SIGNINGS
Full backs were City’s offseason priority — 30-somethings Gael Clichy, Aleksandar Kolarov, Bacary Sagna and Pablo Zabaleta all departed over the summer — and the club spent $155 million to bring in Kyle Walker, Benjamin Mendy and Danilo.
Pep Guardiola places huge significance on the impact of full backs in terms of his team’s attacking game plan, needing them to act as both wingers and defenders.
Mendy got injured in September so his impact has been negligible while Danilo has been little more than a backup. It’s Walker’s presence that has added a new dimension to City, his raids up the right wing allowing Raheem Sterling to come inside more and give the team greater numbers in the box to convert chances.
It’s no surprise that Sterling has had the most prolific season of his career, scoring 22 goals in all competitions so far.
Brazilian goalkeeper Ederson Moraes joined for $45 million from Benfica and has been a huge upgrade from Claudio Bravo with his shot-stopping and pinpoint long passing with a booming left foot.
Bernardo Silva, signed for $55 million from Monaco, has slowly developed into a key squad player, providing cover for Sterling and Leroy Sane.

TWO PLAYMAKERS
It’s a minor tactical switch that has had a major impact.
Pep Guardiola’s decision to deploy Kevin De Bruyne in a deepercentral-midfield role has allowed the Belgian to demonstrate his all-round skills, notably his vision, work rate and reading of the game. He’s been able to keep up his regular supply of assists, too, setting up 16 goals, with passes and through balls that are beyond many of his peers.
One performance, in a 7-2 win over Stoke in October, stands out. In that game, De Bruyne set up one goal with no-look pass to Leroy Sane, before supplying the winger for another goal with a diagonal through ball that sliced through four defenders.
De Bruyne’s new role also got the best out of central midfield partner David Silva, who has played just ahead of De Bruyne and been given license to go forward more.
The use of two central-midfield playmakers is new to English soccer — and has produced handsome results.

WINNING STREAK
When City beat Swansea 4-0 on Dec. 13, the team established an English top-flight record of 15 straight victories — surpassing the 14-match winning streaks of Arsenal (2002), Preston (1951), and both Manchester United and Bristol City in 1905.
City would go on to win three more games before drawing 0-0 at Crystal Palace on Dec. 31, ending the winning run at 18.
City was undefeated at that stage, raising the prospect of going through the season unbeaten like Arsenal’s Premier League “Invincibles” of 2003-04. A 4-3 loss at Liverpool on Jan. 14 put paid to that, but the league title was virtually wrapped up already.

LATE GOALS
That winning run started with Raheem Sterling’s goal in the seventh minute of injury time in a 2-1 victory at Bournemouth on Aug. 26. It wouldn’t be the last decisive late intervention by the winger.
He scored an 84th-minute winner against Huddersfield on Nov. 26, a 96th-minute winner against Southampton three days later, before David Silva grabbed an 83rd-minute winner against West Ham four days after that. All three games finished 2-1, and it revived memories of the winning goals scored in so-called “Fergie Time” by Manchester United’s trophy-winning teams under Alex Ferguson.
City, it seemed, wasn’t just playing the best football in the division, but had more resilience and fortune than any other team, too.

KEY WINS
Along the way, some notable performances established a champion-in-waiting aura around City.
The first was a dominant 1-0 victory at Chelsea on Sept. 30, when the defending champion was played off the field at Stamford Bridge. Two weeks later, that 7-2 win over Stoke featured some imperious attacking play.
Then there was the 2-1 win at Manchester United on Dec.10, featuring scrappy goals at set pieces from David Silva and Nicolas Otamendi, that left City 11 points clear of its neighbor. With not even half the season gone, United manager Jose Mourinho said his team’s title hopes were “probably” over.
Back-to-back wins across 72 hours in early March — 3-0 at Arsenal and 1-0 at home to Chelsea — all but confirmed what everyone had known for weeks: City was going to be champion.
It just needed clinching then. A 3-2 home loss to United in the derby denied City the chance to win the league in record time — with six games left — but Guardiola’s team only had to wait another week.


India and Pakistan ready to renew rivalry in Dubai showdown

Updated 18 September 2018
0

India and Pakistan ready to renew rivalry in Dubai showdown

  • India brace for Pakistan after surviving stern test against minnows Hong Kong
  • Usman Shinwari: Any player who performs well in an India-Pakistan match will find his career reaches a new high

DUBAI: As delirium sweeps the UAE ahead of the mouth-watering encounter between arch rivals India and Pakistan in the Asia Cup, it seems one man — at least outwardly — is not as excited as the rest of the country and cricketing fans the world over.
India captain Rohit Sharma played with a straight bat when asked about the biggest clash in world cricket, set to take place today at the Dubai International Cricket Stadium. On his first Asia Cup media outing the 31-year-old seemed unconcerned by the impending showdown with their fiercest opponents, his focus instead on facing Hong Kong, who Sharma and Co. had a big scare against on Tuesday.
“Right now, we are not focusing on Pakistan as (first) we are playing Hong Kong,” Sharma said on Sunday. “Obviously we have to focus on that particular team but once we have finished that game we will focus on Pakistan and what their strengths and weaknesses are.”
These are clearly the words of a man so media trained that by now he could easily be on the other side of the desk, asking the same questions he and his colleagues sometimes enjoy batting back with crafted clichés that speak of focusing on “one game at a time” or the like.
Sharma was clearly right to not take his eyes off the ball with Hong Kong — they are not here to merely make up the numbers, as their brilliant, battling performance on Tuesday illustrated. But at the same time, Sharma will be all too aware that as India skipper the one match you do not want to lead your side to defeat in is the one against Pakistan, regardless of competition and location.
Clearly India are not leaving Pakistan preparations to the 14 hours or so (sleep included) between the close of the Hong Kong clash and the toss prior to resuming Indo-Pak cricketing rivalry. To suggest they are would be naive at best.
A year on from Pakistan’s show-stealing Champions Trophy final victory over the old enemy in June last year, and a whole five years since the two sides met outside of an ICC or ACC event due to strained political relations, the appetite for the first of potentially three matches at this year’s Asia Cup is huge and one borne out of starved hunger.
Pakistan’s Usman Shinwari, fresh off defeating Hong Kong on Sunday, was more candid than Sharma.
“Any player who performs well in an India-Pakistan match will find his career reaches a new high, and every player dreams of doing well in this contest,” the fast bowler said. “I took three wickets (against Hong Kong), I hope that can be five wickets against India.”
Shinwari’s sentiments were echoed by his captain, Sarfraz Ahmed, who is absolutely clear on the levels of expectation that this fixture demands from fans on both sides of the border.
“The passion is always there,” said Sarfraz. “When you play against India everyone wants us to win as it’s against India.
“The fans say that whatever happens you have to win but as a captain I have to win against every team. It would be the same for India whose fans want them to win. It has happened in the past that any player who performs in the Indo-Pak match becomes a national hero.”
UAE cricket fans cannot wait for the clash. It took just a few hours for the first batch of tickets to be snapped up, the second bought in equally ravenous fashion. It has left a huge number of tickets now being touted across online marketplaces, social media platforms and, ultimately, will likely see the inflated resales being pawned outside the stadium on matchday too.
An expected 25,000 fans will swell the Ring of Fire, set to deal not only with cricket’s most fierce rivalry but also with all the unpredictability that will be thrown their way.
The famed traffic jams around Hessa Street, leading up to the stadium, and local entrances of Dubai Sports City will heave and efforts have been made to ease the burden of vehicles that will cart both sets of fans in and out of the area. Gates will open from 12p.m. local time, a whole three and a half hours before the first ball has been bowled. In an emirate where the last-minute rush is a daily fact of life, this will be not be an easy thing to execute but that, alongside the immense presence of volunteers and security, should prove welcome additions to the day’s running order.
This, though, is India vs Pakistan. Anything could happen.