Saturday 10 December 2016

Pep Guardiola settles for steady start as Manchester City eye 38 steps to glory

Published 14/08/2016 | 13:16

Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola sees room for improvement
Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola sees room for improvement

Pep Guardiola was satisfied with what he called "the first step" after launching his Manchester City reign with a victory.

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But the Spaniard admitted his side would have to improve on their season-opening 2-1 defeat of Sunderland.

Guardiola arrived in the Premier League with a bang as he left England goalkeeper Joe Hart on the bench, omitted Yaya Toure altogether, threw in £47.5million man John Stones and introduced a new playing style at the Etihad Stadium.

The resulting performance was not spectacular but a laboured win, secured with an 87th-minute Paddy McNair own goal, was at least deserved and got the new regime up and running.

Guardiola said: "That is the first step and after we can talk about the tactics, the performance, (whether we) play good or play bad.

"We made a really good build-up process with John, Kola (Aleksandar Kolarov) and Fernandinho, and then Gael (Clichy) and Bacary Sagna.

"In those moments we should attack quicker, but this (so far) is normal in the moment that we are in, our condition. These kind of things must happen to learn what we have to do better but for the first game there were so many good things."

It may take time for Guardiola's blueprint to become fully apparent during the 38-game league season, but City's change of approach was noticeable in the running the likes of Sergio Aguero and Raheem Sterling did off the ball.

Fernandinho also dropped back from midfield into defence on numerous occasions while full-backs Sagna and Clichy were encouraged to move inside and upfield. Centre-backs Stones and Kolarov came forward with the ball, with any sweeping up being done by the goalkeeper.

It was for this reason Willy Caballero was selected ahead of Hart, with Guardiola pointing out the England number one had spent less time in training on the new system as a result of his involvement at Euro 2016.

That was an attention-grabbing selection but Guardiola repeated - as he was probed regularly about it in his post-match press conference - that it was "a decision for today". He added Hart could easily return in the Champions League play-off at Steaua Bucharest on Tuesday.

As for the unusual roles of the full-backs, Guardiola has no doubt his players will come to terms with it.

"They are intelligent guys," he said. "They are not kids. They have a lot of experience. Of course they have always played wide but they did more than good."

Guardiola's side got off to a flying start as Sterling was felled by Patrick van Aanholt on their first attack and Sergio Aguero converted the resulting penalty.

City then dominated possession but paid the price for a lack of incisive attacks as Sunderland, responding well to their new manager David Moyes, crafted an excellent equaliser for Jermain Defoe 19 minutes from time.

City needed to respond and it was substitute Jesus Navas who forced the winner with a run and cross that McNair, making his debut after moving from Manchester United earlier in the week, turned in.

Moyes, returning to the Premier League two years on from his sacking by United, bemoaned his side's luck but was pleased with the performance and expects improvement.

The Scot, who has had just three weeks to work with his squad since succeeding Sam Allardyce, said: "We will need to play at that level of intensity but I want to play in a way where we have more of the ball.

"We didn't have enough of the ball and when we get it I want us to give the crowd something to shout about.

"More importantly I need to build on what happened last year with Sam. They avoided relegation and we have now got to keep the momentum going."

Press Association

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