Wednesday January 3 2018

EPL: Why Manchester City are gobbling opponents

Manchester City's Spanish manager Pep Guardiola

Manchester City's Spanish manager Pep Guardiola catches the ball on the touchline during the English Premier League football match between Manchester City and Bournemouth at the Etihad Stadium in Manchester, north west England, on December 23, 2017. AFP PHOTO  

By Allan Ssekamatte

KAMPALA.

Manchester City’s barnstorming start to the season has football lovers purring at the incredulity of it all. An astounding 18-match winning streak has allowed Pep Guardiola to establish an unprecedented 12-point advantage over rivals Manchester United (before yesterday’s game against Watford) at the halfway stage of the season. So exactly why is City wiping the floor with English Premier League opponents?

1. Pep Guardiola:
Manchester City’s trophyless season made us suffer selective amnesia, leading us to forget Pep Guardiola has been the world’s premier football manager for a decade. The Catalan has accumulated 21 trophies in nine years because he’s the most innovative, most obsessed with perfection and hardest to satisfy. His need to always stay atop the perch compels him to always stay ahead of the game.

2. Superior Football Intelligence:
City are by far the league’s most intelligent side. To arrive at the pinnacle of football intelligence, Guardiola has cultivated a number of factors, most crucial of which is careful use of the ball and breaking down opposition defences. His approach has been to assemble a team of eleven playmakers. Everyone of City players, including keeper Ederson, are part of an elaborate plan to break the opposition. Sweeper keepers aren’t overrated. They are bonafide play-makers.

3. Multi dimensional attacking approach:
Central to Manchester City’s emergence as Europe’s most feared club is the variety to their attack. It’s clear from the way City approach games why Pep referred to Tottenham Hotspur as the Harry Kane team. They’re so one dimensional. At City, while Kevin de Bruyne and David Silva are accepting plaudits for their creative genius through the middle, much of the team’s success is also attributable to expansive wing play.

4. Tiki taka:
When Pep Guardiola invented tiki taka (pass and move), the aim wasn’t to keep the ball for it’s own sake. Players must be ready and able to accept the ball surrounded by opponents. The passing carousel resulting from ability to receive, protect and pass the ball past opponents, is a masterful way of opening up defenses. Insistence on short passes is part of a plan to disorganise opponents defensive structures.

5. Suffocating Press:
Liverpool have the gengenpress. Allow me to refer to Manchester City’s pressure on the ball as the Peppress. You will recall that it was Guardiola who first introduced the six second rule. This rule entails that each time his team loses possession, his players must win it back within six seconds. City players led by presser in chief, Fernandinho, always hunt for the ball in packs of three, and almost always retrieve possession within seconds of losing it.

6. Quick transition:
Opponents are being destroyed by the speed at which City players arrive in their box. A good illustration is goal number three in City’s 4-1 demolition of Tottenham Hotspur. There couldn’t have been ten seconds between Fernandinho winning the ball and Raheem Sterling’s goal.

7. Adding value to players:
The coaches who are adding to their players arsenal of skills are reaping dividends. Last season, we saw Chelsea storm to the title courtesy of improvements Antonio Conte realised from Victor Moses, Cesar Azpilicueta, Marcos Alonso and Pedro. This season, Guardiola has Sterling, Nicolas Otamendi, Leroy Sane and John Stones hitting hitherto unimaginable heights.

8. Superior fitness:
City have been able to outduel rivals because their players run faster and harder. They most certainly run Chelsea and Spurs into the ground by clocking the miles on distance covered. Before City versus Spurs, the Londoners were often cited as the league’s fittest team. Not anymore. City are the EPL’s thoroughbreds.

9. Winning Individual Duels:
As a rule of thumb, City players must outdo their direct rivals on the pitch. This translates into winning aerial duels, 50-50 balls and the second ball after defensive clearances. As a neutral, it pain to see all eleven City players win their individual duels. This has happened in all five games against title rivals.

10. Bench strength:
Not since Manchester United’s 1999 treble winning side, has any Premier League side had a richer bench. Having Brazil’s World Cup striker Gabriel Jesus and Leroy Sane to call on, must be a very welcome selection headache for Guardiola.

11- Team Spirit:
Manchester City are a far cry from the disinterested bunch that floundered badly last season. Pep Guardiola’s animated dug out demeanor has his players dying a little for him. Last season, he was a detached superstar manager and players responded by underwhelming displays.

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