Saturday 25 February 2017

Guardiola purrs after Sterling silences Stoke boo-boys

Stoke City 1-4 Manchester City

Simon Hughes

Manchester City's Pep Guardiola appauds the fans. Photo: PA
Manchester City's Pep Guardiola appauds the fans. Photo: PA

Should the signing of Barcelona goalkeeper Claudio Bravo be completed this week as expected, it would probably prompt Joe Hart to leave Manchester City, and then the attention might switch again to the form of Raheem Sterling.

Maybe critics will be in for a surprise. Until Stoke City's supporters gave up on their team achieving a positive result here, Sterling's every touch was booed, presumably because he is perceived not only as greedy but as a symbol of the England team's failure.

Yet Sterling has performed impressively in both of City's opening Premier League fixtures; causing the penalty that earned a lead in the first game against Sunderland and then supplying an assist for Nolito to score City's fourth goal here.

Pep Guardiola did not mention him by name, but when he praised the "intelligence" of his players Sterling was among that group. So too was Kelechi Iheanacho, the supplier of Nolito's first goal and City's third.

Only then did Stoke supporters leave Sterling alone as they began to filter out of the stadium, their chins nuzzled into their coats.

Guardiola admitted that Sergio Agüero, whose second and third goals of the season put City into a commanding position before Bojan reduced the deficit, would not always be available to him. But he trusts Iheanacho as a replacement.

Manchester City's Kevin De Bruyne in action with Stoke City's Joe Allen. Photo: Reuters
Manchester City's Kevin De Bruyne in action with Stoke City's Joe Allen. Photo: Reuters

"He is always ready," Guardiola said of Iheanacho. "We will need him. Sergio can't play all season and 'Kelli' is going to play. That's why we saw Sergio was a little bit tired after playing four days ago and the travel (in the Champions League qualifier).

"He (Iheanacho) kept the ball and made some very nice assists. We can't achieve anything with just 11 or 12 players.

"We need everybody and I hope they realise that.

"Of course I have to decide and there are moments during the season where players are on top, are down and when that happens they will sit down beside me and we will play the players in better condition."

Manchester City's Sergio Aguero scores his side first goal of the match from the penalty spot. Photo: PA
Manchester City's Sergio Aguero scores his side first goal of the match from the penalty spot. Photo: PA

However, it is clear that Agüero is now City's go-to player and their brightest star. In addition to his three Premier League goals, he registered a hat-trick in the Champions League qualifier at Steaua Bucharest.

Yet Guardiola believes the key to success in football is the "connection between what you do with the ball and what you do when you don't have it".

"To score five goals in two games is a good statistic," Guardiola said. "But he has to help us. It's not enough to receive the ball from his team-mates.

"He has to help us in the first pressure and run a lot and help us a lot with movement. He has - and the team has - been good. But we can do even more."

That sounded like a warning.

Telegraph.co.uk

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