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There’s something different with Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City

Posted: October 2, 2017 at 9:31 pm   /   by   /   comments (0)

It may not be immediately clear from the 1-0 scoreline, but Manchester City completely dominated Chelsea on Saturday, in a victory that’s easily the most impressive of manager Pep Guardiola’s time at the club.

The victory isn’t just important because it came against a top six rival (although that certainly helps), it’s important because it shows that Guardiola’s team has evolved. As impressive as it is to have scored 22 goals over the first seven games, City fans will be even more heartened by the joint-league leading two goals the team has given up. Even though City didn’t add a central defender this summer, the defense has improved dramatically. City’s backline seems to have absorbed the manager’s tactics and the fullbacks — Kyle Walker and Fabian Delph for Saturday’s game — are just as comfortable going forward as they are defending. Unlike last year when the defense could go to shambles any moment, the team now seems to know what it’s doing.

Compare how City looked over the weekend with how one of the league’s other offensive powerhouses, Liverpool, have looked this year. Liverpool scores plenty, but have given up nearly as much. That’s because when basically the whole team bombs forward, they’re vulnerable on the counter. Guardiola’s men, on the other hand, no longer overcommit. They still spend most of the game baring down on the other team’s goal, but are much more aware of spots where they can get caught out and are better able to recover when they are. Their offense’s goal isn’t to just score goals, but to control the game completely.

In a matchup of two of the game’s most respected tacticians, the Spaniard got the better of Chelsea’s Antonio Conte. From the opening whistle the Citizens had the Blues frantically scrambling to deal with a relentless barrage of attacks. While Chelsea was able to withstand the pressure for the first hour, they did so without any real forays forward of their own, especially after forward Álvaro Morata went down with an injury in the 35th minute. Then in the 67th, City finally broke down their opponents. Kevin De Bruyne, the game’s top performer, running onto a smart 1-2 pass from Gabriel Jesus and pelting an unstoppable shot past keeper Thibaut Courtois into the back of the net.

As imposing as they had been going forward up until that point, what stuck out most was how City reacted to the goal. While last year’s team also had no problem scoring, it struggled to keep other teams off the score sheet. As the season progressed, leads rarely felt safe, especially against other top sides. But that was never the case on Saturday. Before the goal, City strangled any ambition Chelsea might have had out of the game. Every player fought tooth and nail for the ball and even as the team’s sparkling forward line, attacking midfield and fullbacks dove forward the back three never lost its shape. And nothing changed once they scored. If anything the side’s attacks increased in intensity and confidence during the game’s final 20-plus minutes. Chelsea might have thought about getting back into the game, but City never gave them the chance to.

It’s still early but the signs are that the title will be decided in Manchester this season. City currently sit atop the table thanks to a superior goal difference over cross-town rivals Manchester United (who’ve only notched a pitiful 21 goals). The two teams offer an interesting comparison because while they have shown themselves to excel all over the pitch, the Sky Blues have the league’s most fearsome offense, while the Red Devils have its stingiest defense. As similar as they may be, though, City have one thing United don’t yet — a marquee win against another contender.





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