Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola
With Manchester City’s 5-0 away demolition of Romanian side Steaua Bucuresti in the first leg of their Champions League qualification tie, Pep Guardiola certainly seems to be finding his feet in the blue half of Manchester.
After struggling to a 2-1 win over Premier League relegation candidates Sunderland on the opening day of the season however, many people are beginning to wonder what exactly can be taken away from the Spaniards first two games in charge of the Citizens.
One of the most immediately apparent changes – and most surprising to many fans – is the almost unbelievable effect that Guardiola has had on City’s much-maligned £50 million man, Raheem Sterling.
Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola speaks to Raheem Sterling
After joining the club last season for a near British record transfer fee, and impressing many with his initial performances, Sterling’s form took a sharp dip as the season progressed, with the former Liverpool man coming under heavy criticism from both pundits and fans alike.
Sterling’s ability to justify his fee was then further questioned after a string of indifferent performance for England at Euro 2016, with the team eventually crashing out of the tournament in the first knock-out round to heavy underdogs Iceland.
With the start of the new season imminent, and with a new boss at the helm – famed for his ruthlessness when it comes to dropping big-name players – Sterling was the man in many people’s eyes who was most at risk of falling victim.
Just two games into the season however, and this prediction couldn’t be further from the truth. After turning in two performances of the absolute highest variety, Sterling now looks just about as close to un-droppable as a player can be.
Voted man of the match in their season-opening game against Sunderland, and having repeatedly caused chaos amongst the Steaua Bucuresti defence – evidenced by his two assists – the young winger looks a player reborn under his new manager.
Should his good form continue, Sterling might just prove crucial in helping City reclaim the Premier League title they lost to Leicester, as well as progressing through into the latter stages of the Champions League.
Although City’s first two games of the season have been extremely varied in terms of their score and the attacking football on display, the actual starting 11 for both fixtures remained incredibly similar.
Against Sunderland Guardiola chose to partner new signing John Stones with Aleksandar Kolarov in the heart of his defence, with Gael Clichy and Bacary Sagna providing the width on either side.
Against Steaua, Kolarov was returned to his more natural position of right back, with Nicolas Otamendi and Pablo Zabaleta coming into the team for Gael Clichy and Bacary Sagna respectively.
These two changes however, represent the only change in personnel between the two fixtures. And yet despite this fact, City’s performances across the two matches were almost incomparable in terms of their effectiveness and success.
Whilst some may argue that this is simply down to the gulf in class between the two opposing teams on show, there remains a far more subtle change that just may also have had a telling effect on both games outcome.
Against Sunderland, Guardiola opted for a traditional 4-2-3-1, with Fernandinho and Silva sitting deep, Nolito, De Bruyne, and Sterling occupying the three more attacking roles, and Aguero operating as the lone striker up top.
Against Steaua however, despite utilising the exact same six players, Guardiola switched to a flatter 4-1-4-1, bringing Fernandinho slightly further back into a more traditional holding role, and moving Silva slightly forward into the more offensive role that he has become so accustomed to occupying.
This not only allowed Silva more time on the ball in an attacking sense – as well as a greater creative license in the oppositions final third – it also brought City’s wide men, Nolito and Sterling, into the game much more as Steaua struggled to combat both De Bruyne and Silva centrally.
It is this sort of tactical prowess and astuteness that Guardiola has forged his reputation on, and if these first two matches are anything to go off, City fans can rest assure knowing that Guardiola will continue to chop and change at his will, until he has his team performing at 100%.