Pep Guardiola

Guardiola fine with favorite tag after Chelsea “killed” Man City

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BRIGHTON — Pep Guardiola‘s Manchester City are favorites to win the 2017-18 Premier League.

He’s fine with that.

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Guardiola’s men brushed off a stubborn Brighton & Hove Albion side on Saturday to win their Premier League opener 2-0 at the Amex Stadium, but his Man City side will have to cope with the pressure all season long of being title favorites off the back of a $260 million summer spending spree.

With nine-man Chelsea losing 3-2 at home to Burnley on Saturday, plus Liverpool drawing 3-3 at Watford and Arsenal struggling in a 4-3 win against Leicester City on opening weekend, Guardiola was asked if making his team the favorites again was about right 12 months on from his arrival in England.

He hasn’t forgotten how last season went when they finished third, 15 points off title winners Chelsea.

“Last season I was sitting here after the Sunderland game and you said you are the favorites, most beautiful handsome and nice guys in the league. And after, you know what happened last season? Chelsea kill us,” Guardiola said. “Okay, we accept what the people say and all we have to try is improve and improve.”

Guardiola was happy with the patience of his players on the ball and praised the workrate of his team as he aims to kick on in his second season in charge at the Etihad Stadium.

“We run a lot. People say we are a big team but we run like a team like a League One or a Conference. You don’t see one player on my team who doesn’t run. That is what I am proud of the most,” Guardiola said. “When you see how Sergio[Aguero] and Gabriel [Jesus] run backwards, Kevin and David. When that happens that is the first step to create something. Last season we run a lot and did many, many good things but in the boxes we weren’t good but today in the boxes we were perfect.”

New signings Kyle Walker and Danilo provided width for City and although new goalkeeper Ederson dropped one cross to almost allow Brighton to take the lead, Pep’s men stuck to their task and dominated the newly-promoted as they secured a routine win when many of their main title rivals struggled on opening day.

Guardiola will never shake off the favorite tag so long as he keeps spending big.

Is it now or never for Pep Guardiola at Man City?

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$215 million in transfer fees last summer.

$262.5 million so far this summer.

What needs to happen at Manchester City in Year Two of the Pep Guardiola era to call him a success? And is there anything that could doom the Catalan man to life outside of the Etihad Stadium.

[ MORE: 2017-18 PL season preview hub ] 

The boss enters his sophomore campaign without a trophy, and for all of his purchases there’s a solid chance that only four of his opening day starters will come from that group (Kyle Walker, John Stones, Ederson, Danilo or Benjamin Mendy).

Heavy is the head that wears the crown as the purported top mind in football management, especially when there are Phil Jackson implications to this third go-round: Guardiola dominated at Barcelona and Bayern Munich with two of the deepest and best teams in the game, and significantly less competition on the table.

If he can’t do it this season at Man City — and we’re talking a PL win, UCL win, maybe multiple pieces of hardware — could it be two-and-out?

That seems a bit nutty, but consider what the hierarchy at Man City has seen from its managers in recent years. Manuel Pellegrini won the league in his first season. Roberto Mancini won the FA Cup in his first full season and claimed the league in his second.

Now that’s not to say Guardiola’s 2016-17 debut in blue was poor; City finished third, and looked stylish for much of the campaign. They scored three or more goals in 12 Premier League matches, beat Barcelona once in the UEFA Champions League before falling to Monaco, and came within extra time of an FA Cup Final.

But a deeper dig shows that Guardiola had a reverse-Klopp season. Whereas Liverpool’s German boss thrived against top PL competition but wilted against lesser lights, most of City’s failings came against the big boys.

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Two losses to champions Chelsea. A loss and a draw versus Spurs and the same against Liverpool. A win and a draw in the Manchester Derby and against Arsenal.

That’s 10 of 30 points from a master tactician. He undoubtedly is, but how big of a liar can the numbers be when it comes to Guardiola? One of the things we heard last season was, “Wait until he has all his guys!” Well, after another summer, it looks like Vincent Kompany, Yaya Toure, Raheem Sterling, Kevin De Bruyne, Sergio Aguero, and David Silva are good money to keep places in the team, and perhaps Fernandinho, too.

All of this is moot if you, like me, think Man City is going to have an outstanding year, win at least one Cup, make a deep UCL run, and contend for the Premier League crown deep into the Spring. Heck, City has convincing XIs if Guardiola divided his charges for PL and UCL competition.

But that’s the rub for Guardiola. Aside from the rising level of the league’s elite, there is no reason City shouldn’t do very, very well this year. And if they don’t, would it be crazy to imagine his dismissal from the Etihad? We probably won’t have the chance to realistically see it, but the bar is high for a man who last season missed out on a league title for just the second time in eight campaigns.

Premier League 2017-18 preview – Manchester City

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Pep Guardiola gets his second go-around with Manchester City, hoping to improve on a third-place finish that came down to the wire. The Spaniard has done much work this summer to overhaul the roster and get significantly younger in key areas.

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Last season’s acceptable finish eased some of the pressure that was mounting on Pep Guardiola, but another finish in the same spot this season won’t be taken so lightly. This team expects much more after such a massive summer investment, and anything less than a title will probably seem like a disappointment.

Best, worst case scenarios – Best-case scenario is clear: win the Premier League championship. With such a prestigious manager plus over $280 million spent this transfer window, there’s a clear target. Should those moves gel quickly, they could be one of the most dangerous teams not just in the Premier League but in all of Europe.

However, should it take Pep Guardiola time to mesh the new players together, an early-season sputter could scuttle the season before it even truly begins. Worst-case, this team finishes outside a Champions League spot, and Guardiola likely wouldn’t last long enough to see it come to a disappointing close.


Best possible XI is…

Bravo

Walker — Stones — Kompany — Mendy

Toure — Fernandinho

D Silva — De Bruyne — Sterling

Aguero


[ MORE: 2017-18 PL season preview hub ] 

Transfers In: Benjamin Mendy (Monaco, $68 million), Kyle Walker (Tottenham, $60 million), Bernardo Silva (Monaco, $59 million), Ederson (Benfica, $47 million), Danilo ($35.5 million), Douglas Luiz (Vasco de Gama, $14 million),

Transfers Out: Kelechi Iheanacho (Leicester City, $32.8 million), Enes Unal (Villareal, $17 million), Aaron Mooy (Huddersfield, $10.8 million), Nolito (Sevilla, $10.6 million), Fernando (Galatasaray, $6.2 million), Aleksandar Kolarov (Roma, $6 million), Joe Hart (Loan, West Ham), Jesus Navas (Sevilla, Free), Gael Clichy (Basaksehir, Free), Pablo Zabaleta (West Ham, Free), Willy Caballero (Chelsea, Free).

Last season:

— 3rd place in Premier League
Champions League Round of 16 (lost to Monaco)
— League Cup 4th Round (lost to Manchester United)
FA Cup semifinals (lost to Arsenal)

Star player: Kevin De Bruyne — Sergio Aguero’s rocky relationship with Pep Guardiola and the arrival of Gabriel Jesus has seen the Belgian playmaker rise to the top as Manchester City’s most influential star. He played the most minutes of anyone on the squad last season across all competitions, and he was involved in 30 goals (7 scored, 23 assisted), one fewer than Raheem Sterling‘s team lead. One a team bursting at the seams with both creative and finishing talent, de Bruyne is the glue that holds it all together.

Coaches’ Corner: Pep Guardiola — Despite a solid third-place finish in his first season taking over an aging squad, Guardiola’s first season in charge had largely a disappointing feel to it. The Spaniard brought in players like John Stones and Leroy Sane who either struggled or failed to make a significant impact. After his success at both Barcelona and Bayern Munich made Guardiola one of the most sought-after managers in the world, he must prove he can navigate the Premier League or he may run out his welcome in Manchester.

PST predicts: This team is just flat out too talented to struggle two seasons in a row. Guardiola will figure out how to piece the attacking talent together, rotating Jesus and Aguero through the numerous competitions and working Ilkay Gundogan, Leroy Sane, and Bernardo Silva into the rotation behind them. The central defense is still this team’s weakness, but for all of John Stones’ struggles last season, City still managed the fourth-best defensive record in the English top flight. Kyle Walker is a fantastic addition despite his high price, and Guardiola has managed to get this team significantly younger since he arrived. This is a top-two team, and will challenge for the title.

Man City loan four to Girona, will play friendly at La Liga new boys

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Girona has not played in Spain’s top flight before this season, and Pep Guardiola just may help the Blanquivermell stay in La Liga for more than a single campaign.

The Manchester City boss has sanctioned the loan of four players to the Catalan club, with Pablo Maffeo, Marlos Moreno, Aleix Garcia, and new signing Douglas Luiz making season-long moves.

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Moreno made 19 appearances on loan for Deportivo de la Coruna last season, so he has La Liga experience, and Garcia played once for Villarreal before moving to Man City in 2015.

Maffeo is Spanish and spent 10 years at Espanyol’s academy, while Luiz moved to Man City just over two weeks ago.

Garcia and Maffeo made 12 combined appearances for City, with the former scoring a goal against Swansea City in the League Cup.

City announced it would play a friendly against Girona during a training camp in the city, the Spanish club’s last match before opening up La Liga play. Guardiola might be a little famous in Catalonia, so it’ll be a fairly memorable occasion.

The top-to-bottom depth of La Liga is hardly as strong as the Premier League or the Bundesliga, so this is a decent opportunity for a quartet of City players to earn meaningful minutes, make their names in Spain, and advance up Guardiola’s pecking order.

Guardiola still expects Iheanacho to go to Leicester, despite delay

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It’s been nearly a month since word of Leicester City’s pursuit of Kelechi Iheanacho became commonly accepted public knowledge — the Foxes were “close” to signing the Manchester City striker on July 6.

[ MORE: Sunday’s transfer rumor roundupSaturday | Friday ]

You’ll be quickly forgiven if, based on the assumption the transfer had already gone through and that was quickly settled, you’d pushed Iheanacho out of sight and out of mind with regards to your own club’s transfer wish list. Here we are, though, 24 days later, and Iheanacho is still a Man City player, despite the fact he didn’t join the team for their preseason tour of the United States.

Pep Guardiola “thinks” Iheanacho will ultimately trade Man City blue for that of Leicester, but he also admits there’s still part of the saga which requires a resolution — quotes from the Manchester Evening News:

“I think Kelechi leaves us in favor of Leicester. I think so, but I do not want to say anything wrong either. We will see. If that does not happen, he will be part of the group.”

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Leicester manager Craig Shakespeare will be pleased by Guardiola’s comments, as he’s (understandably) desperate to bring the 20-year-old Nigerian international to the King Power Stadium: “I’m hoping so, but I am like every other manager at the moment. I think we all find it frustrating but it is the current market.”