Agree to Disagree – where the argument you had at the pub last Thursday becomes a well mannered discussion.
It takes some managerial appointment to relegate Jose Mourinho to Manchester United to just the second biggest story of the off season. Pep Guardiola arrives at Manchester City with a glistening CV but working his magic in the Premier League is the hardest challenge he’s ever faced. Manchester City start the season as the bookies favourites – but should they be?
Sam Simmons argues…
No – The short answer is no. In his previous jobs Pep has had it easy in comparison to the issues he faces at City.
By this I don’t intend to demean the work he has done previously; he’s still an enormously talented manager, indeed, I was his biggest fan at Barcelona. His teams played with an arrogance and vigour that I had never seen before on a football field.
Yes, it can be said that he lucked out by taking over a squad full of unquestionable talent, but to do that would be demeaning the clearly wonderful work that Pep did at the Catalan giants. For a start he moulded Messi into the greatest player of all time. Messi was always destined for greatness, but Pep was the one who allowed him to realise his potential. He took Xavi and Iniesta and shaped them into the most brilliant midfield double act in world football. He promoted Sergio Busquets from relative obscurity and turned him into the best defensive midfielder Europe had seen since Claude Makélélé. Then there was Dani Alves; Pep’s insistence on playing attacking football meant that wingbacks turned into auxiliary wingers. But does all of this give City divine right to be considered title favourites? The simple answer is no. This is Pep’s biggest challenge; he doesn’t have the embarrassment of riches at City that he had at either Barcelona or Bayern.
When he took over Bayern they were the reigning European Champions. They had lost just one league game the previous season, and had also won the German Cup. They were, without question, the best team in the world.
In his three years in the Bavarian capital, Guardiola won seven trophies, including three dominant Bundesliga titles. In his first season in charge the title was sealed with six games still to play, a new record for German football. The final winning points margin was a staggering 19 points!
Yet Pep’s time in Bavaria is considered by many to be a failure. Bayern got to 3 Champions League Semi Finals, yet never further. This in itself was a damming indictment on Pep’s manaegerial credentials.
Guradiola’s Bayern showed the same fallibilities as his teams at Barcelona; they were worryingly vulnerable to counter-attacks, and also flagrantly weak in defence. In many ways this is why I don’t think City will be lifting that trophy in 9 months’ time. Guradiola has never managed in a league where the gap between the top and bottom teams is so small.
At both Barcelona and Bayern there was only really one realistic rival for the title. In England there are six or more teams that could easily win the trophy. This sort of competition will come as a shock for Guardiola. He will not have the luxury of being able to rest players in the same way as he’s been able to do in his managerial career thus far.
In the Premier League there is often a cliché that gets branded about – “there are no easy games!” This is certainly true; anyone can beat anyone. For Guardiola this will mean having to play most of his best players in just about every game. To ask them to play at the same intensity that his previous teams have played at will be a massive task.
City will be playing a minimum of 46 games, and could end up playing anything up to 60, depending on their progress in cup competitions. With no winter break, another thing Guardiola will experience for the first time, I feel they will struggle to reach the heights that people are predicting.
Then there is the quality of the playing squad. City’s squad is not at the same level of either Bayern or Barcelona. Defensively they are still very vulnerable, and Guardiola has not been shy in admitting that his backline needs strengthening. Additionally, it seems likely that Pep will look to buy a new goalkeeper, with the incumbent Joe Hart seemingly not up to the required standard. In midfield there is a distinct lack of talent. Bar the shrewd signing of Ilkay Gundogan there is little to inspire confidence. Pep’s teams have always had a certain level of dynamism, verve, and finesse. Players like Yaya Touré and Silva are no doubt talented, but both lack the pace that Guardiola usually craves.
On the wings it is different. De Bruyne and Sterling have new competition in the form of Nolito and the prodigiously talented 20-year-old German, Leroy Sané. In January, Gabriel Jesus will arrive to add even more pace to a frightening forward line.
Leading the line will be the world-class Argentine, Sergio Agûero. City’s best player will shoulder most of the responsibility, and will have to be on top form if Guardiola’s reign is going to get off to a winning start. Injury problems have blighted him, and despite Kelechi Iheanacho showing signs of promise last season, nobody in the City squad can reach the same levels as Agûero.
Even with this forward line, I still can’t see City winning the title. Guardiola has not got the nous, nor the experience to deal with the trials and tribulations of the Premier League. Unless he sets his teams up in a different and more solidified way, then City will be on the wrong end of a few poor results. However, his career thus far tells me that Pep will do it his way, and consequently, City will struggle.
Mike Franchetti argues…
Yes – I’m not too keen on Pep Guardiola. The original anti-Mourinho now shares a number of traits with his Portuguese nemesis including an inflated ego and difficulty handling any form of tactical failure.
The Spaniard was a joy at first but a few too many superlatives have been thrown in his direction. I don’t really like how his teams are perceived; the pinnacle of footballing aesthetics, flawless build-up play and never showing anything lower than ultimate sporting integrity. Suddenly – and almost nothing to do with Guardiola himself – I started to enjoy seeing his sides lose.
To give him his due, he moulded a great Barcelona side into the greatest Barcelona side and walked to three Bundesligas with a fluid Bayern Munich. He remains a more easy-going personality than Mourinho and isn’t afraid to show a little love to his players. He enters the Premier League with a reputation of a relentless ball-hogging style. When weighing up the merits of each Premier League club I found it hard to look beyond Manchester City. So yes, I do believe the light blue half of Manchester are justified favourites.
Manuel Pellegrini’s City side were defined by rampant victories and more than a few moments of questionable defending. Towards the end of his spell they became increasingly inconsistent; for every Sergio Aguero masterclass there was a game that you’d genuinely forget Yaya Toure was playing. The squad grew stale and the signing of Kevin De Bruyne failed to counterbalance the patchy form of Toure and David Silva, plus injuries to Aguero and Vincent Kompany. Pellegrini kept his integrity for the length of his tenure but was unable to breathe the necessary fire back into his fading squad.
At first I thought Guardiola was up against it at Manchester City. He took over a Barcelona side primed for European domination and a Munich side who had already got the t-shirt. By contrast, City were just one point away from playing Thursday nights.
However, a closer look reveals the Pep/City combo to be a better fit. For starters, City have both money to burn and an established youth setup. The club once dubbed the ultimate money spenders have made small steps towards cleaning up their image in recent years. The youth prospects coming through are hardly the Class of 92 but their academy is something for Guardiola to get his hands on. The promotion of Kelechi Iheanacho was a highlight of last term and back-to-back F.A Youth Cup finals promises more to come (Aleix Garcia, Manu Garcia, Tosin Adarabioyo).
They’ve also bought smart. Ilkay Gundogan makes perfect sense and, providing he can reproduce his best form, should be the answer to many of City’s woes. In a midfield packed full of athletes, Gundogan will bring the ball-playing calmness that Guardiola desires. Another pulled from Guardiola’s knowledge of German football is Schalke’s Leroy Sane. The 20-year old is a risk at nearly £40 million but has the talent to make an instant impact. Nolito may yet prove to be the best piece of business at £13.8 million. The late-bloomer scored solidly across his three seasons at Celta Vigo and this sets him apart from the sometimes headless Jesus Navas.
Guardiola’s last trick may be to revitalize costly disappointments Raheem Sterling and Eliaquim Mangala. Guardiola showed his best side when jumping to defend Sterling this summer as the England International’s confidence hit rock bottom. Mangala possesses everything needed to be a world class defender but has plenty of bad games. City have so far signed no new centre backs suggesting Guardiola remains a believer.
But how will Pep fare in the manic world of English football? It’s true that there’s no division in world football scattered with as many banana skins as the Premier League but Guardiola is an esteemed manager and this won’t come as a shock. He’ll relish the new challenge and, after all, the core of City’s squad have plenty of Premier League experience.
Despite these reasons to be cheerful, it’s only when considering City’s opposition that they become justified Premier League favourites. Mourinho leads Manchester United setting up the biggest Manchester grudge match in recent years. They, like City, are giving their new man all the right tools but the squad will need time to settle and steering United back to the top two will be no mean feat. Chelsea welcome the exciting Antonio Conte to the Premier League but their progress is hard to predict. The Blues were unspectacular till the very end of last season and it could take Conte, recently back from the Euros, two seasons to make his mark. Arsenal have done little to suggest a change in their fortunes whilst Liverpool look a top four club at best. As for Leicester and Tottenham, they won’t do as well as last season. There, I said it.
It’s an exciting time for the Premier League but I still make City favourites – the bookmakers have got it right this year.