Sunday 22 April 2018

Masterclass is not enough for relentless Pep

Guardiola: “They are having a big impact.” Photo: Getty Images
Guardiola: “They are having a big impact.” Photo: Getty Images

Jim White

Fifteen goals in their past three matches with none conceded: it is fair to suggest that Manchester City are enjoying a bit of form. However, much as he relished watching his side in imperious mood as they shredded Watford's unbeaten start to the season, Pep Guardiola was not satisfied.

"Today, after this, it looks like, 'oh no, we cannot improve'. Of course we can improve. There are still movements and actions we can improve," he said.

Peering through the autumnal murk shrouding Vicarage Road, it was hard to imagine where and how this City side could get any stronger. Going one better than the 5-0 thrashing they delivered here last season, this was as close to a footballing masterclass as the 20,305 lucky spectators will ever see.

No wonder Noel Gallagher was smirking in the directors' box; he probably hasn't enjoyed himself this much since he learned that his brother's last single failed to make the charts.

With David Silva and Kevin De Bruyne constantly on the move, constantly probing, constantly creating, with Sergio Aguero and Gabriel Jesus sniper-like in their finishing, with Raheem Sterling threatening to become the player his talent has long suggested he might, City have a sparkling core.


True, last season that crew started with a 10-match winning flurry that insisted they could not be touched, only to end up entirely pot free.

But what has changed this term is what is happening on the flanks. Guardiola's new full-backs might have cost more than the gross national product of a small African nation, but this match demonstrated how Kyle Walker and Benjamin Mendy are already reaping a return on their investment.

The speed with which they break and the accuracy of their crossing have given a new dimension to City's attacking threat.

And Silva, De Bruyne and Aguero are relishing the space they have created, as opponents deploy resources wide in the hope of curtailing them.

"They are having a big impact," said Guardiola of his new recruits.

"They have huge energy to go up and it stretches our play and means we can have more players in the middle, to do the short passes. I like our passes to be three, four, five or six metres, no more than that. It gives us continuity.

"We create spaces in behind and you need players in those positions. Without these signings, it would have been more complicated."

With them, it all looked very simple.

De Bruyne and Silva - surely as accomplished a midfield pairing as any in Europe at the moment - fashioned the openings for Aguero and Jesus to finish.

Aguero, in particular, was rampant here. His hat-trick - a header, a tap-in and a jinking solo dart - was his sixth in his City career. He is now just three goals away from becoming the club's all-time leading scorer. It would be unwise to bet against him completing that record before the month is out.

And never mind the brilliance of those in the starting XI, the scale of the resources available to Guardiola was made evident by his bench.

His substitutes for this game cost more than Watford have spent in transfer fees in their entire history, but Marco Silva bristled at the suggestion that such disparity made his task impossible.

"Liverpool is a big team and we didn't lose to them," the Watford manager snapped when asked whether he was doomed the moment he saw the opposition team-sheet.

Silva went on to suggest that it might have helped his cause had the linesman spotted that two of City's first-half goals were scored from an offside position and had the referee awarded Watford a penalty when Walker attempted to slice Nathaniel Chalobah in half in the area.

However, even as he said it, he must have known that was an exercise in straw clutching.

Perhaps more pertinent was his parting thought: "One mistake and they score. It is difficult to play against City. They are a very good team with a very good coach."

He is unlikely to be the last manager making such an observation this season. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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