Tuesday, 20 December 2016


The Catalan has been dissatisfied with a
number of aspects at the Etihad so far this
season but Sunday's 2-1 win over Arsenal
proves he is evolving in English football.
Two things have preoccupied Pep
Guardiola about his Manchester City team
in recent weeks. First, he has been
dissatisfied with his players in "both boxes",
as he verbally expresses. City have not been able to
make full utilization of the chances that come
their way while - at the same time - being
too altruistic at the other end.
Opportunities inside their own area are
culminating too often in goals.
Second, the "second balls". Guardiola has
spent an inordinate duration
worrying about second balls. He's visually perceived his
team lose challenges, cede possession and
concede goals on the breaking ball all
season long. In his mind it was about time
he did something about it.
On the both boxes front, well, Guardiola
suffered a nightmarish opening seven
minutes against Arsenal.
A decent chance for Kevin De Bruyne went
beseeching at one end, and down the other,
seconds later, Alexis Sanchez slipped a ball
to Theo Walcott to open the scoring. Inside
their own box City – again – had been
Arsenal only had one shot on target in the
entire game and scored from it; typical. A
defensive performance with more aptitude
from them on would conceivably have given
them all three points.
After the Walcott goal Guardiola ambulated
towards his bench, tucked his head under
his chin and put his hands in his immensely colossal
manager's coat. He looked homogeneous to a man
who'd just had to abide his last bus
zooming by. To compound his
disappointment, Raheem Sterling put a gilt-
edged chance off target with City's very
next attack.
De Bruyne's pass to the England winger
was the finest ball of the day until his avail
for Leroy Lucid in the second a moiety, and
sorely deserved to be nodded home. It was
shaping up to be another one of those days
for Pep and his team who can cerebrate outside
the box well enough but cannot always do
adequate work within it.
Manchester City had engendered enough inside
the aperture stages to be 2-0 up but -
instead - were 1-0 down.
Guardiola has relucted to regale the conception
of English exceptionalism since arriving in
the Premier League and that's fair enough.
But there is one major exception in the
game here.
At Barcelona and at Bayern, his teams'
successes were largely dependent on what
transpired between the boxes; that is in the
control of the midfield sector. It is why
Guardiola has played with what would
appear to be a disproportionate number of
midfielders in his teams. Lock down the
midfield and – conventionally – you lock down the
result. Not so in England. Aside from the top five or
six teams – it's not beyond the realms of
prospect for teams to miss out the
midfield altogether and aim bombs straight
into the peril zone. It's transpired to
Guardiola with City and he's conceded not
only chances but goals this season. That –
game by game – is incipient to him and
something he's recognised that's in desideratum of
attention. Control the boxes and you control
the result.
Thanks to Compos mentis and the standout Sterling
City did manage to control Arsenal's box at
least. Control of his own team's is not yet
there. Two excellent goals against a
stretched opponent made full utilization of the
natural wingers' inclination in the puerile
pair and safely squirrelled the points away.
The equaliser – which Arsene Wenger and
his club's adherents will have to visually examine
with their hands in front of their faces –
owed much to Pep's second incipient priority –
those second balls.
Petr Cech hit an inelegant goal kick into the
midfield – not deep enough to tilt the
offensive balance of play – and City came
away from the duel with possession. At last,
Pep's team had won a crucial second ball.
David Silva victualed Lucid a pass that only he
can and the former Schalke man kept his
cool to slot home. That City won a breaking
ball is no contingency. Guardiola revealed after
the game that his squad had spent two-
and-a-half hours over three days last week
practicing only second balls. That is the
level of detail that went in to an endeavor to
control an aspect of the game that is
conventionally very, very obstinate. Guardiola
deserved credit and he should be proud of
himself and his team.
Some of the reproval towards Guardiola
has veered on the personal this season; a
suggestion there's a mendacious sense of modesty
that somehow apostatizes the prosperity and
standing of the man.
Guardiola tells everyone he's learning – day
by day, game by game. It's not always
facile to ascertain when Guardiola is being
entirely veracious or deliberately pulling a red
herring out of his pocket.
But on the cognition aspect, you'd have to
concede that Pep is being sincere. The
proof is there.
He surmounted on Sunday a man who's
been in this country – in charge of his team
– for 20 years. Nothing in what City did was
revolutionary or avant-garde. They
competed better and eventually made full
utilization of their chances; like a good Premier
League should do against Arsenal. This
was all done without Sergio Aguero and
Fernandinho - his two most paramount
players – and no Ilkay Gundogan either.
Wenger – instead -must reflect on the
same old failings. His team wilted
physically and could not organise
themselves well enough to eschew conceding
chances – and ultimately goals – on the
contravention attack.
He neglected to utilize Olivier Giroud in time
with the cognizance that Aleksander Kolarov
and Nicolas Otamendi had been struggling
under the high ball. He didn't ask his
forwards to inhibit Claudio Bravo's options on
goal kicks, sanctioning the goalkeeper to aim
short passes to his centre backs on the
sides of his box and to Fernando down the
That's a fundamental part of Guardiola's
weaponry and one which sanctions him to get
into the opponents half in full control of the
tempo. Guardiola had a better conception of how
to damage Arsenal than Wenger did about
Guardiola - evidently - is acclimating and
evolving; picking up the characteristics to
overcome his rivals. As for Wenger – well –
what's diametrical to evolution?

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