Erling Haaland, Pep Guardiola and Kevin De Bruyne took Manchester City to the next level this season
It would be natural to follow The turning point of Manchester City's season was that dramatic evening at the Etihad Stadium on 19 January, when an irritated and emotionally charged Pep Guardiola pulled back the curtain to reveal his true feelings for a team he said he would never recognize again.< /p>
Guardiola had just watched City bounce back from two goals against Tottenham to win 4-2, but he was unimpressed.
Between a desperate call for rally, a merciless tirade and a scathing warning from the manager City refused. strikes and, in the process, uttered a quote for the ages, calling his serial champions “the lucky flower team.”
City, according to Guardiola, have lost fire, courage, passion and desire. Fans, like the players and the club, got into the comfort zone and calmed down. Teammates stopped protecting each other on the pitch, Guardiola was dismayed that the young Rico Lewis had to stand up for himself while Pierre-Émile Hoybjerg was knocking the pieces out of him. Even Erling Haaland pulled it off, City's 52-goal record holder chided for not making more attempts to fall behind.
“If we play like this, Arsenal will destroy us,” Guardiola said. “If we don't change, we won't win anything. I don't recognize my team. I want to see my team.”
It's interesting to note that now that City are celebrating their fifth Premier League title in six seasons after an astonishing four-month turnaround in which Arsenal have been losing steadily to the point of surrender, Guardiola says he wouldn't unload the way he did. This is what happened if they lost that game to the Spurs for fear that it would be taken as an excuse.
Pep Guardiola addressed his players after their return win over Tottenham in January – it was a typically passionate, tense moment from a manager who seemed to work wonders. Photo: Getty Images/Jan Kruger. , but did this conversion really have a transformative effect? In fact, the push Guardiola so desperately sought came under more unexpected and unwelcome circumstances 19 days later, when a courier delivered legal documents from the Premier League to Etihad detailing 115 alleged violations of their financial rules.
Just hours after a crushing 1-0 defeat to Tottenham and weeks on the pitch, with the team still struggling with the transition to 3-2-4-1, the news was a bombshell – at first glance. a huge distraction and headache that Guardiola could have done without, and which could derail City's campaign. It was suddenly the season for City's army of critics, who denounced the Abu Dhabi project as an exercise in sports laundering and creative accounting—the all-star club.
However, Guardiola saw it differently; for him it was an opportunity. From what at times felt like a lonely struggle to put together a team that was once again asked to push the envelope, suddenly the manager had a unifying reason to make everyone fall behind, and he wasn't about to pass up the chance to create the most ferocious of siege mentalities.< /p> Manchester City title highlights
The press conference that followed was pure theatrical, and interestingly, some City staff compared it to that moment at the Bernabéu in April 2011, when Barcelona's war with Real Madrid reached its peak on the eve of the first leg of the Champions League. . In the semi-finals, the cocky Guardiola hit back at José Mourinho with his calculated “fucking boss, big fucking boss” kick. When Guardiola returned to the team hotel that evening, the Barcelona players gave him a standing ovation.
Guardiola was no less pugnacious or theatrical when he stepped into the media room at City's training ground on February 10, accusing his Premier League rivals of hunting the club and even referring to Julius Caesar as he claimed they were already ” condemned.” and “sentenced” by those who want to receive them. There was also a plus for those who hoped that Guardiola would soon get an excuse to leave City and level the playing field in the Premier League.
“I will not move from this place. I assure you that more than ever, I want to stay,” he said pointedly. “Sometimes I have doubts. Seven years is a long time for any country. Now I don't want to move.”
“How can you not want to fight for this man?”
In the locker room, in the boardroom, in offices and at home, executives, players, staff and fans reveled in it. “How can you not want to fight for this man?” said one senior City source.
The reaction was extraordinary. Almost like the flip of a switch, focus shifted, focus narrowed, the system clicked, and this most battle-hardened machine went into ruthless mode, while off the field the steely mantra of “business as usual” was adopted.
Aston Villa are the first victims of an unbeaten streak that now stands at 23 matches in all competitions. Rodri scored just four minutes into that game, showing that City had enough guts to fight before leaders Arsenal were thrashed 3-1 at the Emirates on the next matchday. For the first time since November, City led the way, albeit on goal difference, playing a game more than Arsenal and another psychological blow to Mikel Arteta's team. The hunt has been in full swing like wolves around their prey.
Cities have been circling their prey like wolves since the beginning of the year Courtesy : Getty Images/Matt McNulty
After an unexpected draw at Nottingham Forest allowed Arsenal to regain pole position, the message spread within the club that City needed to be flawless until the end of the campaign. They had won their last 14 league matches to clinch the title by a margin of victory over Liverpool on the last day of the 2018/19 season and it was felt that something similar would be required this time around. Privately, the players felt that constant pressure could bring Arsenal down.
Rodri hinted at this publicly in the middle of last month when he said, “When you've done it before, you've proven you can do it again. If you have never done this, you may have doubts that you can. We have been doing this for many years.”
The following day, Arsenal squandered West Ham's 2–0 lead to draw for the second consecutive game, and this time there were more points lost. home in Southampton. By the time Arteta's frail, insecure team moved to the Etihad, you could almost smell their fear as that defender-eater Haaland and Kevin de Bruyne went berserk. 4-1. The race for the title is almost over.
Offal, heart, liver, fish and lasagne
There can't be any serious discussion of City's latest win without a special mention of Haaland, who broke the Premier League scoring record and will no doubt soon will add the PFA Player of the Year crown to the already won FWA Footballer of the Year award.
At the end of the seven-part docu-series Together: Champions Again recounting last season's win, City teased Haaland's appearance. “Welcome to Manchester,” the pilot said as Haaland's plane landed, before in the closing scene, a fully kitted striker clapped his hands as if to say, “Let's go.”
Unstoppable Haaland – league goals
Has Haaland exceeded expectations? Maybe someone else's, but not his own, according to Guardiola, even if the player believes his success was based on how City's medical staff “fixed” his body after muscle problems plagued him for two seconds. extra years at Borussia Dortmund. .
Guardiola says Haaland gets attention 24/7, but the Norwegian's meticulous approach to managing his body and mind bears a resemblance to Cristiano Ronaldo's obsessive pursuit of perfection.
Erling Haaland broke many records in his first season at City – one of several reasons Guardiola & Co are celebrating another Premier League title. Photo: Reuters/Phil Noble
Haaland wears Oura Ring on his finger, which measures his sleep quality, temperature trends, stress, and heart rate, as well as orange-tinted, blue-light glasses a few hours before bed because they block the high energy emitted by digital screens and natural sources of energy. light. His diet of organ meats, heart, liver, fish and lasagna prepared by his father Alfie allows him to consume up to 6,000 calories a day is as meticulous as Guardiola's training plan.
However, it is now almost easy to forget how many questions Guardiola had to ask about whether City were wrong to sell Gabriel Jesus and Alexander Zinchenko, two pillars of Arsenal's title-champions, last summer to their rivals. Or the risks Guardiola seemed to be taking in sanctioning a loan move for Joao Cancela to Bayern Munich in January, leaving him – unbelievably – without a left-back but still somehow better, with Nathan Ake excelling in quality. left centre-back, while Pep saw an opportunity where everyone else saw a problem.
Top 10 Most Used City Players – Minutes Played
But then the sources point to how successfully City have weathered the loss of key figures such as Vincent Kompany, David Silva and Sergio Aguero over the years, and outgoing captain Fernandinho last summer. strength. The signing of England midfielder Calvin Phillips for £45m and the absence of his starting XI in one league game is a reminder that the bar remains at City.
Real Madrid's 4-0 thrashing in the Champions League on Wednesday, indicative of the high mark of Guardiola's reign, evokes a sense of City's unstoppable power. However, it wasn't really just a plane ride, and how they managed to overcome those bumps to get to the point where everything starts to crystallize will no doubt sweeten Guardiola's success after all those working lunches at Musu, Japan's exclusive restaurant in New York. Manchester, planning and plotting in his head.
Of their many great performances this season, perhaps their demolition work at Real Madrid will go down in history as the best. Photo: Getty Images/Michael ReganIt wasn't until mid-January, after a 2-1 defeat to Manchester United, with Haaland narrowly scoring in the midst of an eight-match league streak with City down 11 points, that questions were still being asked about the Norwegian's participation in the wider system. Three days before, after a 2-0 defeat to Southampton in the League Cup, which Guardiola described as the worst of his career, Ilkay Gündogan said that “something is wrong”.
“It was a lack of attitude, a lack of confidence, a lack of commitment, you know,” the City captain said.
Will anyone be able to stop City next season?
Despite a 2-1 home loss to Brentford in the final game before the World Cup break and City's tendency to stand out before then with dramatic outbursts rather than entire games, there was no clear hint of problems or concerns that could arise. when Guardiola flew to Abu Dhabi over the weekend of November 19-20 with his wife Cristina Serra and children Marius and Valentina to put the finishing touches on a two-year contract extension.
His family gave him their blessing to extend it staying at City during a brief break in Scotland in the days following a 1-0 defeat to Liverpool the previous month and Guardiola smiled as he attended the Pro Am Pep Trophy, a golf event in his name and later the Grand Prix in Yas Marina.
However, for a good six months this season, different players have come to the fore for short periods at different times and driven the team to the point where the system change has fully taken shape. Players like De Bruyne, Gundogan, Bernardo Silva, John Stones – now a mobile midfield center of the highest class – Kyle Walker and Ruben Diaz have risen to extraordinary heights in recent months, but that's just Rodri – “imperial” according to Guardiola – Jack Grealish, Haaland, Ake and Manuel Akanji, who have been consistent throughout the article.
Guardiola, for example, believes 18-year-old full-back Lewis has played a vital role in this transition as one of only two central midfielders during a difficult winter, despite the teenager only starting two of the last 17 matches in all competitions. . Riyad Mahrez, described by Guardiola as a “holiday” before the World Cup break, was City's brightest striker over the Christmas and New Year period, but has had to settle for a role off the bench in the most important games.
Phil Foden scored six goals in his first nine league games but played in second place behind Grealish for most of the season. Walker had long periods where he seemed to be frozen and Guardiola even raised doubts about the defender's suitability in the new system just six weeks ago, but the 32-year-old has since returned to the team and may never have played better.
Jack Grealish had an outstanding season which shows why City spent £100m on him. Photo: Getty Images/Tom Flathers
No one pouts in this squad, at least outwardly. Distinguish between individual and collective stability. See how Fodin, Mahrez, Julian Alvarez and Aymeric Laporte, none of whom started in a 1-1 away draw against Real Madrid, reacted to being parachuted out again at Everton four days later. They went to every other team in the league.
Guardiola feared how the World Cup in Qatar could affect his team in March and April, given that City had more representatives in the tournament than any other club. bar Barcelona, but he has nothing to worry about.
City entered the fray without injury and with players in top form and fitness, and the credit for that must in part go to the club's sports science and medical teams, who left no stone unturned in ensuring that the physical and psychological stresses of the first mid-season World Cup would not return to them later in the campaign.
The attention to detail was impeccable. At one point, experts in fitness, physiotherapy, psychology, medicine and nutrition from England and the City, for example, sat at the board table at City's training ground and assessed each player. Walker even attended one of his talks.
The City continues to set the bar. The question is, who can really stop them next season?