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Thursday 18 October 2018

Manchester City set to be formidable opponents in title defence

Pep Guardiola’s side won the Premier League title with five games to spare last season.

Pep Guardiola has built a formidable Manchester City side (Martin Rickett/PA)
Pep Guardiola has built a formidable Manchester City side (Martin Rickett/PA)

By Andy Hampson, Press Association Sport

Manchester City set their stall out to defend their Premier League crown before last season had even finished.

Pep Guardiola’s exhilarating side did celebrate after sweeping aside almost all before them to claim the title with five games to spare but – even amid their partying – their intensity on the pitch barely dropped.

City went on to roar through their closing games, racking up record after record as they wrapped up the campaign with a flourish.

City finished the season with 100 points, 32 wins, 106 goals and a 19-point advantage over nearest rivals Manchester United – all new records.

Guardiola has never tolerated complacency in his near-relentless pursuit of success throughout his managerial career and this was clear indication that the gauntlet for the following campaign was already being thrown down.

City will begin the 2018-19 Premier League season as odds-on favourites and with considerable justification. The football they played last term was near perfect and the title was all but wrapped up during an 18-game winning streak – another record – before new year.

After a year to settle in and mould the squad to better suit his vision, Guardiola had City playing a quick-moving, possession-based game that could tear opponents apart with quick breaks and incisive passing.

Kevin De Bruyne and David Silva pulled the strings, Raheem Sterling and Leroy Sane added flair, Sergio Aguero was clinical, Fernandinho gave extra impetus and John Stones, Nicolas Otamendi and ball-playing goalkeeper Ederson ensured everything kept ticking over. It was a formidable machine with further threats coming from Kyle Walker on the right.

Yet there is no resting on laurels. In January, City broke their transfer record to sign Aymeric Laporte for £57million and since signing off last term they have pushed the figure out again, spending £60million to recruit Riyad Mahrez. The feeling is Laporte, as he settles into the English game, will give City even more drive from the back while Mahrez will bring even more attacking weaponry.

The onus is very clearly on other teams to stop them. Last season, only Liverpool proved capable of beating City by taking them on at their own game. Most sides that attempted that were made to suffer and so many opponents opted to sit back and play cagily, hoping to stifle them and perhaps take the odd set-piece or counter-attack. Although United did catch them out in a remarkable derby at the Etihad Stadium, that also was a strategy that largely failed.

With a young, hungry squad and Guardiola now getting his teeth into the project – a fact underlined by his recent contract extension – this City era could only just be beginning.

Obviously other factors could come into play, such as injuries or possible post-World Cup fatigue, but rarely can a club have started a season in better shape than City this time. Rival managers eyeing their crown have their work cut out to stop them.

Press Association

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