The 2017-18 Manchester City squad — the one which held a 14-point lead in the Premier League title race, after just 20 games, entering this weekend — might very well go down as the best to ever
grace torch England’s top flight, whether or not they finish the campaign unbeaten.
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It’s Pep Guardiola‘s second season in charge at the Etihad, and while this kind of domination was certainly envisaged and perhaps even expected by the club’s ambitious owners upon his arrival in the summer of 2016, it wasn’t supposed to happen in the first 18 months.
While much has been made of the money Man City have spent under Guardiola’s direction (net spend during Guardiola’s tenure: $385 million), it’s also true that enough credit hasn’t been given to Guardiola for what he’s done with a number of players already at the club when he arrived.
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Kevin De Bruyne has blossomed into a arguably the best central midfielder (a “free no. 8” is what they’re calling it) in the world; Raheem Sterling has improved more than anyone anywhere; Gabriel Jesus hit the ground running from his first day in England; Nicolas Otamendi has been given a new lease on his career; and Fabian Delph is more than just a passable fill-in at left back — he might just make the England team at this summer’s World Cup. Each of the above statements is undeniably true, and each of the above players has Guardiola to thank.
Alas, being the strident self-critic that he is, Guardiola chooses to see plenty of the negative which can be gleaned from City’s destruction of the PL this season: to him, it simply means he failed miserably a year ago — quotes from Goal:
“Now when I speak with my staff I say that, in the end, we are playing with nine players from last season. So, we did something not good last season. We missed something.
“We didn’t change seven or eight players. I think the new players give energy, with the way they are in the locker room. New faces always help teams.
“But last season I missed something, when nine players who normally play are the same and the players in midfield and up front are the same.
“Something happened. Of course, they know us better and we know them better. Sometimes you need more time to adjust.”
“Last season, for example, I never thought to play Fabian Delph at full back.
“‘Oh, the brilliant Pep, how talented he is…’. Why didn’t I do that last season?
“Sometimes you need more time to see things. Now Mendy isn’t there. Fabian is there, he is able, he is smart, he is a midfield player.”
“The players who do not play regularly, they are exceptional human beings. We cannot create something when the people who do not play regularly, they always create problems, have bad faces and bad behavior.
“You can ask all the managers who have success and win titles, always there is a common thing — the group is strong. Not 11 players, the group.
“Everyone has desire to win, everybody wants to win and dreams to do that. When that happens, everything can happen.”