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Millennium Post

Manchester City: Unparalleled Champions

Even after bagging two trophies in his second season as the manager of Manchester City, Pep Guardiola's thirst for titles may not have been entirely quenched, writes Sridhar Venkatesh.

The 2017-18 season of the English Premier League will, no doubt, be remembered as the one that Manchester City dominated from the start and won convincingly, with nary a challenging opponent. At this stage, having played 33 games, City have won the Premier League with 87 points. Manchester United are a distant second, having played a game more but securing 13 points less.
In his two seasons at the helm of Manchester City F.C., Spanish tactician Josep 'Pep' Guardiola has brought about a tremendous transformation in the club's ranks. Taking over the reins of the club from Chilean manager Manuel Pellegrini in February 2016, the Spaniard had a rather underwhelming first season in England. At the beginning of the 2016-17 season, City signed seven new first-team players, with the more established seniors like Edin Džeko, Stevan Jovetić and Martín Demichelis parting ways with the club. Guardiola's seven new arrivals included Germans İlkay Gündoğan and Leroy Sané, midfielder Oleksandr Zinchenko, shot-stopper Claudio Bravo from Barcelona F.C., Colombian attacker Marlos Moreno, Spanish international Nolito and promising English centre-back John Stones from Everton F.C. Guardiola's intentions were clear from the get-go, as he looked to rebuild the team in his own image – with good, fast passers of the ball present throughout the playing eleven. In the latter half of the season, he also signed youngster Gabriel Jesus from Brazilian club Palmeiras to add to City's strike force.
Things, however, were not all falling into place for Guardiola. What could best be described as an ageing defence was perhaps the biggest obstacle for Guardiola. A long-term cruciate ligament injury to Gündoğan, an underperforming Nolito and Bravo's slippery fingers did not help his cause either. Finishing the 2016-17 season at the third spot, 15 points behind eventual winner Chelsea, City were guaranteed a Champions League spot. However, Guardiola was not nearly pleased with how his maiden English outing played out. City's rather meek defence had conceded 39 goals in the Premier League, 10 more than their cross-town rivals Manchester United F.C. – who, surprisingly, finished a lacklustre sixth in the Premier League.
Flashes of Guardiola's formerly managed Barcelona side were evident throughout the 2016-17 season, with quickfire passing and dominant possession setting them apart from most of the PL sides. They even had the upper hand against United, defeating them 1-2 at Old Trafford and ending the reverse fixture at the City of Manchester Stadium with a 0-0 stalemate. But, Guardiola was barely satisfied. For the first time in his nearly decade-long managerial career, one of Guardiola's team finished a season without any silverware.
In the middle of the season, Guardiola had stated that City "might be his last team" as a manager, as not winning a trophy – of the four available to City – constituted a "failure". Despite the disappointment of not winning anything, Guardiola's resolve to win only became stronger. "I have to handle that but what I can say is try to play better, better, better than the previous month. That's what I want to see for the next year – be better," the Spaniard stated near the end of the 2016-17 season.
With the arrival of the 2017-18 season, Guardiola had identified his side's defensive vulnerabilities and thus began a spending spree in the summer transfer market, which created enough buzz among football pundits. The arrival of young Brazilian goalkeeper Ederson from Benfica, for £34.9 million, was the first sign of the things to come. This was followed by the acquisition of three fullbacks in Briton Kyle Walker from Tottenham at £45 million, Brazilian Danilo from Real Madrid for £26.5 million and Frenchman Benjamin Mendy from Monaco at £49.3 million. Mendy's Portuguese teammate Bernardo Silva also joined him, giving Guardiola a creative and agile winger to rely on. In January 2018, City also roped in Aymeric Laporte from Athletic Bilbao for a club record £57 million, giving them a strong, lanky centre-back in the defensive ranks.
Along with the new arrivals, however, came a mass exodus of established seniors from the City side. Veteran defenders Gaël Clichy, Bacary Sagna, Pablo Zabaleta and Aleksandar Kolarov were shipped off, while irregular starters like Fernando, Samir Nasri, Wilfried Bony and goalkeeper Willy Caballero also moved looking for greener pastures. Surprisingly, even Guardiola's own purchase Nolito was sold off, along with promising Nigerian youngster Kelechi Iheanacho and veteran Spanish winger Jesús Navas. But all this only made things easier for Guardiola.
With the young and potent attacking trio of Raheem Sterling, Sané and Jesus at their disposal, City have scored goals at ease and at will this season, and are closing in on the magic number of 100 goals scored for. In Jesus, City have a striker with a poacher's intent inside the box. In Sterling and Sané on either side of the wings, they have fast and creative wingers, who not only provide Jesus with the proper service that he requires but are also equally adept at putting the ball into the net.
But, more than the attacking trio in the front, it is the magnificent midfield duo of Kevin De Bruyne and David Silva who have run the show this season with aplomb. With 11 goals and 18 assists in all competitions this season, De Bruyne is easily one of the best players in the world in the attacking midfielder position.
The other statistics only go on praising the Belgian playmaker by more folds. With 3.21 chances created per 90 minutes, De Bruyne is the third in the list of top chance makers in the Premier League this season. In addition to an enviable passing accuracy, De Bruyne also has a wide range of passes. Long-range, short-range, long-lobs: name it and the Belgian has it.
His partner, David Silva's performance has been nothing short of masterful either. The 2017-18 was not necessarily an easy one for the Spanish midfield maestro. In January this year, he revealed that his son Mateo had been born extremely prematurely and was fighting to stay alive. His personal struggles kept him away from international duties for the Spanish side and even led him to miss some of City's games. However, despite his personal troubles, the diminutive midfielder has given nothing short of 100 per cent for his club.
As mentioned before, defensive vulnerability was a major problem for Guardiola at the beginning of the season, especially the full-back positions. However, in Danilo and Fabian Delph, Guardiola has two swift inverted left backs, who not only join City's attacking ventures from behind the flanks but also get back to their positions swiftly to stop any counter attacks. Moreover, Walker's presence on the opposite side thwarts any incoming attacks from the opposition's left wing, even if his involvement in City's attacks is less than his left fullback partner.
Ederson has been a standout performer in the Premier League this season, playing as a sort of sweeper keeper and even building up attacks from City's defensive third when needed. Skipper Vincent Kompany, meanwhile, has led from the front every time, standing as a rock of a centre-back in front of young Ederson. The Belgian has partnered up either with Stones, Laporte and Argentine Nicolás Otamendi to such an extent that City have conceded only 25 goals, the fewest this season in the entire Premier League. And with two trophies in the bag, this season – the Carabao Cup and the Premier League – Guardiola's thirst for titles may not have been quenched completely. But, it has certainly brought a smile to his face.
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