City show class is permanent – and very expensive
On a dreamy day for the club and their fans, the sight of a local lad, Solly March, working the ball out of tight positions with lovely ingenuity was a promising vision for Brighton and Hove Albion. Never mind, for now, that Manchester City have so many players of similar creativity that they started with four on the bench.
People will soon tire of cost comparisons, but the realisation that City’s subs cost more than Brighton’s stadium and training ground was salutary.
“Yes somebody did tell me that, and when you put it that way it sounds incredible,” said Chris Hughton, Brighton’s manager, after their first game in the top tier for 34 years ended with a respectable defeat. “Incredibly strange. If I was in his (Pep Guardiola’s) shoes I’d be doing exactly the same and bringing in exactly the same quality of player.”
Brighton need quick strikers; City need a way of giving game time to their swarm of gifted midfielders. Leroy Sane, Raheem Sterling, Yaya Toure and Bernando Silva all started on the bench, as a goal from Sergio Aguero and a header into his own net by Lewis Dunk eased City into another campaign as Premier League title favourites.
Kevin De Bruyne, who started, played down the congestion for midfield places.
“We’ve got 60-65 games and sometimes that can be a lot. Last year with the injuries we had you don’t always have those options, but this year our team is loaded,” he said.
“Our bench is unbelievable. And we’ve still got a few injuries.”
Guardiola sounds like a coach who feels he has the equipment he needs, minus another top centre-back. Asked how he would keep all his artistic midfielders happy, he said: “If they were not generous with their time then it would be difficult, but there are a lot of games and everybody is going to play. But if you want to play in a certain way, the way I like, with players on the ball, then you need talent.
“So, we need talent, to keep the ball, to know what you’ve got to do. Our midfield positions are ‘phoar!’ Really good. We have Fernandinho, (Ilkay) Gundogan is coming back, with Kevin, with Silva, with Raz (Sterling), who can play in that position, Phil Foden, who was outstanding in pre-season.
“They all have such a lot of quality. I like players when they have the ball, they don’t lose the ball. I love that.
“And they keep it, they keep it well. Last season I rotated the team a lot and I will do that again. They will all be involved. After that it depends on them and if they accept my decision or not. If they don’t accept it, it will be their problem not mine.”
Guardiola might also have mentioned his three full-backs.
Hughton said: “I’ve listened to Pep’s interviews, and he said that with the full-backs – the age of the full-backs – they needed to replace them. They’ve gone out and bought probably the best around at whatever cost. And good luck to him.
“The pressure on him is different. He has designs on the Champions League and making sure they win the title and he’s bought great quality players.”
The pressure on Brighton, realistically, is only to finish 17th. In that endeavour they looked well organised and resilient, with Bruno and Shane Duffy especially assured at the back. Indeed, Guardiola praised both Brighton centre-backs.
Now they need their new signings to shine, and one – ideally two – quick, counter-attacking strikers.
Hughton admitted as much, saying: “What you would like and what you do is generally two different things – but certainly in the forward area we’d like to do something.”
Tomer Hemed’s lack of pace was especially evident – and keeping the ball better is Brighton’s immediate challenge.
But their return to the top was commendably handled. Hughton called it “a club day”. A day to be enjoyed, as a rebirth, with eyes averted from the amazing array of talent Guardiola was able to call from the bench to affirm the class divide. (© Daily Telegraph, London)