Two games into the much-anticipated Pep Guardiola era in the blue half of Manchester and the acclaimed coach has wasted little time in bringing about eye-catching transformation.
Much of the reaction has focused on his decision to relieve Joe Hart of the first-team gloves – items seemingly in his keeping for an eternity.
Seasoned observers of the Guardiola footballing mantra however will give little credence to the fact that the manager views one goalkeeper to be head and shoulders above another within his squad and will be curiously digesting the composition of the Catalan’s outfield selection.
Hart’s omission overshadows the absence of club icon Yaya Toure from the midfield. Hardly a surprise given that Guardiola has already disposed of the Ivorian once in the past.
— The Sun Football (@TheSunFootball) August 19, 2016
What is intriguing though is that his place has not gone to an understudy or new recruit. Instead, David Silva has dropped deep into Toure territory.
Within City’s ranks, if ever there was a player born to play the Guardiola way, then it is Silva.
The diminutive Spaniard has long-been considered one of the most gifted and aesthetically rewarding players in the Premier League but such is his knack for creativity that he has in the past unerringly been given an advanced position.
Tradition dictates that those with the capability to create chances be located near to the opposition goal.
Both against Sunderland at the weekend and in Romania in midweek, the former Valencia man was deployed deeper at the heart of the team.
This change though did not shackle the magician – rather it aided him.
— Paradigma Guardiola (@ParadigmaPep) August 18, 2016
Notably Silva was allowed to roam to get on the ball and he maximised this freedom by moving up and down the pitch, rather than laterally across the attacking line from flank-to-flank as seen under previous managers.
It seems Guardiola has simply taken the player that most encapsulates his desire for the way the game should be played and placed him at the heart of the side.
The openness of Steaua Bucharest of course gave Silva space to run the game and permitted him to encroach to positions like from which he scored the opening goal with a well-timed penalty box arrival.
Against Sunderland too though, it was Silva who dictated the tempo, even if David Moyes’ side proved much more resilient than their Romanian counterparts.
In both games Guardiola’s men dominated possession, which is hardly surprising given the Spaniard’s romance with ball retention but against Steaua they did so in a much more advanced position.
Their high defensive line was clearly evident despite the big pitch. It is clear that Guardiola will demand territory as a means of ultimate success in creating chances.
— Manchester City News (@ManCityMEN) August 19, 2016
Interestingly he also chose to replace both Pablo Zabaleta and Aleksandar Kolarov with 20 minutes remaining, obviously aware of the demands of his system on the legs of his full backs.
At both Barcelona and Bayern Munich, the number one rule seemed to be that every player became at ease in possession of the football.
This comes naturally to some while others are forced to have confidence in themselves and adapt to survive in his plans. Defenders find this most difficult to accept, especially the more rugged ones.
Against Sunderland, Hart’s omission also disguised the decision to deploy Kolarov, primarily a full back or winger, at the centre of the defence alongside John Stones.
Nicolas Otamendi, albeit carrying a knock, was left on the bench while the athletic but less-technical Eliaquim Mangala was omitted entirely.
This proved a stark reminder that Pep values technical ability with the ball at feet above all other qualities, even in defenders.
To his credit Kolarov coasted through the game at the Etihad Stadium with a pass completion of 90.1 per cent – higher than that of his £47.5 million ball-playing partner at centre-half.
Otamendi returned in Romania and enjoyed an easy night. It remains to be seen though if the tough-tackling, clearance-loving Argentine can adapt to the Guardiola philosophy and also what shape City’s defence will take when the new manager expects their first real examination.
Stoke, West Ham and then arch rivals Manchester United and Jose Mourinho await in the league – a set of fixtures that should see Guardiola’s emerging City face increasing degrees of difficulty.
— Sky Sports Football (@SkyFootball) August 17, 2016
Citizens fans will be greatly encouraged though now that a free-flowing display has followed the laboured acquisition of three points of the opening day.
They will also be pleased by the form and application of Raheem Sterling, who seems to have put a disappointing summer behind him and dedicated himself to fending off the challenge for his place from new arrivals.
With the first clues to the Guardiola era revealed, Premier League fans can hardly be shocked by the style the team is adopting, only perhaps by the Spaniard’s disregard for reputation and traditional positions – in the pursuit of his own vision.
It is the reassignment of roles within the squad and on the pitch that should be the talking points and not those names that have, for the time being, failed to make the cut.