Out with the old, in with the new. Pep Guardiola’s arrival at Manchester City last summer was always set to bring about wholesale change at the Etihad Stadium, with the Catalan looking to implement a progressive, tenacious model of football that revolved around rising young talent.
This vision offered little room for City’s old guard - with the likes of Joe Hart, Samir Nasri and Eliaquim Mangala all being shown the back door - as attention subsequently turned towards the bright new future that was to come.
In came John Stones for £47.5m, 19-year-old Gabriel Jesus agreed terms to a January transfer and Guardiola personally rang Raheem Sterling during England’s ill-fated Euro 2016 to say he would ‘fight for him’. Youth was to be the thrust with which Guardiola would look to propel his new side forward – a plan that, after eight months of asking, finally appears to be coming together.
Of course, the going has been far from easy. The sense of schadenfreude in watching Guardiola struggle at times has been palpable, with critics notably questioning whether the City manager was truly up to the task of English football as his side went six games without a win in October – Pep’s worst run as a manger.
City have since rallied and even in spite of Jesus’ recent lay-off, or Stones' erratic decision-making, Guardiola’s emphasis on the club’s young guns is starting to pay dividends - even if he remains fully aware such a project cannot produce instant results as hoped for.
“My idea is to work for the mid-term and long term,” he said ahead of his side’s Premier League tie with Stoke.
“We bought young players because we believe they have a lot of quality. We don’t buy players just because they are young. They have a lot of quality, and of course we can invest a lot of money, with Raheem or with Leroy or the other guys.
Manchester City 2 Swansea 1 player ratings
Manchester City 2 Swansea 1 player ratings
1/22 Willy Caballero – 5 out of 10
Had very little to do for the majority. Arguably could have done more to deny Sigurdsson’s equaliser.
2/22 Fernandinho – 6 out of 10
Made a number of crucial interceptions and blocks to deflate Swansea moves.
3/22 John Stones – 6 out of 10
A textbook performance – solid at the back and held the line well.
4/22 Aleksandar Kolarov – 6 out of 10
His decision making was faultless and he looked confident in possession.
5/22 Gael Clichy – 5 out of 10
Should have done more to deny Narsingh in the build-up to Swansea’s equaliser.
6/22 Kevin De Bruyne – 6 out of 10
A disciplined display – was a key element to almost every City move.
7/22 Yaya Toure - 6 out of 10
Had one tremendous free kick denied by the woodwork. Faultless work rate.
8/22 David Silva – 7 out of 10
Assisted Jesus’s goals and continued to begin City moves throughout. Solid performance.
9/22 Raheem Sterling - 6 out of 10
Crossed the ball well and ran up and down the flanks relentlessly. Booked unworthily for diving.
10/22 Gabriel Jesus – 10 out of 10
Two goals to win his side the three points and all around terrific display. His movement off the ball is phenomenal, he’s quick and reads the game very well.
11/22 Leroy Sane – 7 out of 10
Continued to pump balls into the path of Jesus and made a nuisance of himself throughout.
12/22 Lukasz Fabianski – 6 out of 10
Made a handful of important saves but beaten twice by Jesus.
13/22 Kyle Naughton – 5 out of 10
Was a victim of City’s speedy strikeforce – looked lost at times.
14/22 Federico Fernandez – 5 out of 10
Was beaten by Silva for the first goal. Made a number of unnecessary fouls.
15/22 Alfie Mawson – 7 out of 10
Swansea’s best defender, made a number of crucial tackles and clearances to deny City going forward.
16/22 Martin Olsson – 6 out of 10
Looked confident on the ball and caused City a problem when he ran at them with the ball.
17/22 Leroy Fer – 6 out of 10
Broke a down a number of City attacks and won a majority of the headers.
18/22 Jack Cork – 5 out of 10
Struggled to keep up with the pace of City going forward – outclassed at times.
19/22 Tom Carroll – 5 out of 10
Gave possession away cheaply and against a club of such ability, that’s dangerous.
20/22 Wayne Routledge – 5 out of 10
Failed to make a real impact on the game, but showed glimpses of brilliance when in possession.
21/22 Fernando Llorente – 5 out of 10
Saw very little of the ball, but that was due to a lack of service. Was also unnecessarily clumsy in challenges.
22/22 Gylfi Sigurdsson – 8 out of 10
Hunted possession relentlessly, rattled the woodwork with a free kick and scored the equaliser. Top display.
“It’s because we expect them to be here for four, five, six, seven years and make their careers here at Manchester City. That is the reason why. But the first thing we are looking for is the potential, the quality. After that, OK, as young as possible.”
Two players who have thrived under Guardiola and this youth-spun model are Leroy Sane and Raheem Sterling. The pair have been directly involved in 14 of City’s 30 goals this calendar year, establishing themselves as central components to an attacking blueprint that has finally started to click into place.
Although Guardiola refuses to get carried away with the pair, arguing improvements are still needed from both, he acknowledges the potential they both have to offer.
“He’s [Sterling] playing a lot, a lot of minutes, a lot of games,” he added. “It’s true how many chances he creates, how many chances he scores from. He create penalties, aggressive without the ball, and presses and many other things.
“It is the same case as Leroy, he is a guy who still needs to improve. I would not like him to believe or think that it’s already done, that he’s good enough.
“He can be better, especially in the simple things. Still he makes mistakes in the simple and easy things and when he improves that, wow!
“You have to start with the simple things and then work on dribbling the ball, scoring goals, these kind of things. But he has the talent.”
Guardiola may not be without his mistakes – the decision to replace Hart with Claudio Bravo has backfired in spectacular fashion – but the outlines of his brave new world are starting to materialise. City remain unbeaten since their ignominious defeat at Goodison Park earlier this year and continue to move in the right direction as they juggle the demands of Premier League, FA Cup and Champions League football.
This coming together on the pitch is unsurprisingly reflected in the sense of togetherness that now appears to be underpinning the youth-led side – something Pep readily admits to.
When asked about Sane and Sterling’s blossoming relationship on Tuesday, he said: “It is nice. Of course we like it.
“It’s nice when we go to Abu Dhabi to see how close they are - that is the most precious and beautiful thing. Team spirit is better than ever since I’ve been here. That’s what I like the most. Everybody is involved.
“So if you have a team spirit it is so important.” More like teen spirit, and Manchester City look all the better for it.Reuse content