Tuesday 27 September 2016

Guardiola battling to get Aguero and Co to play to his tune

Manchester City 4 B Monchengladbach 0

Ian Herbert

Published 15/09/2016 | 02:30

Manchester City's Sergio Aguero celebrates scoring his hat-trick. Photo: Martin Rickett/PA Wire
Manchester City's Sergio Aguero celebrates scoring his hat-trick. Photo: Martin Rickett/PA Wire

It was the new Manchester City incarnate, a team of long passes, short passes, almost always forward passes, sweeping away in the course of 90 minutes all that has been bland and tepid about them in European for so long.

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The personnel had not changed so very much from the team of Manuel Pellegrini that managed to turn a Champions League semi-final into an exercise in drudgery but Pep Guardiola imbues every action with meaning and intent.

Manchester City's Kelechi Iheanacho in action. Photo: Martin Rickett/PA Wire
Manchester City's Kelechi Iheanacho in action. Photo: Martin Rickett/PA Wire

There are more than enough individual transformations to fill the autumn months with interest: last night, the defensive shield Fernandinho revealing himself as the exponent of the 40-yard pass and Nicolas Otamendi as a central midfielder, such were the positions he took up to receive the ball at times against Monchengladbach.

John Stones looked a new player amid quality. But simply to observe Guardiola - slapping his leg relentlessly at possession conceded, fretting his way through every second without the ball - was the play within the play. 'There', 'Be there' he implored Fernandinho at one point early in the second half.

The Brazilian rarely erred. He looks to fit this new mould as well as any, running 40 yards through midfield and supplying the long pass, pinpoint, which sent Kevin de Bruyne away to supply City's opening goal, eight minutes into Guardiola's era.

The creators Kevin de Bruyne and Raheem Sterling buzzed around ahead of him, deadly in the spaces they took up between the German defensive and midfield lines. They punctured those lines frequently, driving Monchengladbach back with such command display that Sergio Aguero managed to score a hat-trick and still look slightly eclipsed.

Manchester City's Aleksandar Kolarov and Borussia Monchengladbach's Thorgan Hazard. Photo: Martin Rickett/PA Wire
Manchester City's Aleksandar Kolarov and Borussia Monchengladbach's Thorgan Hazard. Photo: Martin Rickett/PA Wire

Demanding, imploring, upbraiding Guardiola had swept away all the usual angst associated with City's opening night in the half hour or so it took his players to take an unassailable 2-0 lead against a German side of no little merit and ability.

A vignette in the closing stages of the first period told you why. Aguero, who'd already taken his season's goal tally to eight in five games, had not delivered a forward pass from a position 15 yards outside the opposition box. There was a turnover in possession. Guardiola waited until the danger had passed. Then he tore Aguero off a strip.

Prior arrangements for a match taking place 24 hours late explained the substantial empty seats around the place but the silence must have been an alien experience for Guardiola.

City were ahead in eight minutes when Kolarov took Sterling's return pass from his throw on the left, drilled a well-paced cross which barely left the turf. Aguero responded faster than Andreas Christensen to turn the ball in at the near post for his seventh goal in five games this season. The second came when Christoph Kramer took Gundogan's foot right away as he drifted into the area with the ball. Aguero despatched the penalty right-footed to Yann Sommer's left.

Sterling should have found the net when De Bruyne's weighted pass sent him through on Sommer in the 72nd minute. He dawdled and his shot was weak.

He compensated rapidly, spinning to pass inside Julian Korb to deliver the Argentinian his hat-trick. The fourth goal came in injury time when De Bruyne and sub Leroy Sane worked a move down the right which concluded in a low finish from Kelechi Iheanacho, on for Aguero.

There was an embrace of sorts between Aguero and Guardiola as the Argentinian left the field and to which the player didn't seem entirely committed, having taken some stick from the touchline. He has some adjusting to do at City and is not the only one. (© Independent News Service)

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