‘The fixture to define this Premier League era’ – Liverpool v Man City preview

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Klopp v Guardiola. Super Sunday. The best two teams in England go head to head. Heavy metal gegenpress meets the super-attacking jugo de posicion. Judgement Day. Sky Sports can push whatever slogans they want in the lead up to this match, it won’t boost their numbers that much, because everyone from around the world will be tuning in to watch the footballing spectacle that is Liverpool v Manchester City on Sunday afternoon.

The Premier League champions and leaders travel to a place where they haven’t won since 2003, to face a Liverpool side who seem to be the only team in the English game who can say they can go toe-to-toe with City and outperform them. Other teams in the league have done it, such as Wolves, but lightning won’t strike twice with those teams, it does with Liverpool. Consistently, Klopp’s men up their game for the visit of Manchester City: the crowd up the ante from the stands, whilst the players seem to start the match at a 100 miles per hour tempo, which seems to only be reserved for the visit of City.

Here, we look at Liverpool v City and try and preview what will be a fascinating tactical battle…

‘Forcing a rivalry’

It’s become clichéd by now, but Liverpool and City fans love to accuse each other of ‘forcing a rivalry’. Whether it be bricking a coach, singing about each others failures at games not involving one another, or simply just getting hit up about the other seemingly more than either team would for Manchester United these days, the fans of the opposing clubs would talk negatively on this and accuse the other of the aforementioned.

Don’t beat around the bush. There is a rivalry.

Liverpool v City is the modern-day Arsenal v United, the grudge match of the decade. People will look back on this period in a decade or so’s time and conclude that this was the era defining fixture.

There may be no Vieira’s or Keane’s on the pitch, but there certainly is talent in abundance. Two revolutionary coaches and a couple of star-studded teams that could dominate the English football landscape for years to come.

The attacking styles that Guardiola and Klopp have brought to England will set a blueprint in the league just as the styles of Wenger and Ferguson in the late 90’s. Just as Arsene Wenger and Sir Alec Ferguson popularised the whole idea of a second, deeper lying striker (Dennis Bergkamp and Eric Cantona), in ten years, a vast portion of the league may use goalkeepers of the Ederson or Alisson breed, or play with the ‘number 6’ style of midfielder that Kevin de Bruyne is.

It may not be a bitter rivalry yet, but the fixture could be looked on as England’s answer to the Clasico, the two big hitters going toe-to-toe to out-tactic one another.

Should Guardiola alter his ways?

In his press conference ahead of this game, City boss Pep Guardiola admitted that to play defensive would be ‘boring’.

Does that mean he can’t alter his tactics to be slightly more pragmatic? Pragmatism isn’t putting 11 men behind the ball, in fact you can be offensive by being defensive. Mourinho used to deploy three men on the half way line when defending a corner, which in turn meant the box was less crowded. Guardiola won’t do this, but the essence rings true.

Playing his usual 4-3-3 plays into the hands of Liverpool, and ‘taking the sting out of it’ via playing simple passes in the first fifteen minutes just doesn’t work. You either need to go all out and try to score a goal first, or sit back (which Guardiola won’t).

The main thing for City and Guardiola has to be to stop the early goal. In the last five or six visits, City have gone one down within the first half an hour. From there, it has been an uphill battle. If they do this, it makes for an entertaining spectacle, where both teams can feasibly win.

Will Liverpool’s front three turn up?

So much has been made of Liverpool’s scintillating start from the widespread media that it has been near impossible to scratch beneath the surface of what has been a relatively poor start for ‘the front three’, for their standards at least.

When talking to Liverpool fans, they will admit the fascinating trio of Mané, Firmino and Salah look like they have never played together before, and look disjointed.

While Sadio Mané started the season in impressive fashion, Salah and Firmino have struggled to find the form of last season.

Despite this, if history repeats itself, Liverpool players should up it for the visit of Guardiola’s City.

Predictions

Taking my neutral hat off for a second, I am not confident. Less confident than ever. I think that City may get a draw from Anfield, but I can’t see it. Liverpool up their game for the visit of City every year and while I think City will give it a better go than last, I am going with a Liverpool win.

2-1. Salah and Mané to score, with David Silva scoring a consolation for the visitors.

The rise of Edin Džeko from besieged Sarajevo to breaking records across Europe

As originally featured on This Football Times, Lewis Steele charts the rise of Edin Džeko from the war-torn Sarajevo to the top of the footballing ladder.

The story of most world-class footballers starts on a local park, where the future star would spend hours a day kicking a ball around with friends from an early age. The standard edition is usually a case of something along the lines of: “he would rise with the sun and play football until the sun set at night”. A scout would spot the player and sign them up for the city’s top academy, where the kid would ease their way through the ranks of the academy setup and eventually make their name in a prestigious first team.

But, for Edin Džeko, it was different. The land the Bosnian spent his days on was worlds away from a fancy park with flat, even playing turf and an expensive ball. In fact, the park that Džeko mastered the techniques and traits that saw him work his way up the footballing ladder was in the centre of a war torn Sarajevo, which was populated with a rare blade of unharmed grass and a ball only in shape, rather than the average football that you can buy over the counter in a sports shop.

Many footballers have stories of tough beginnings to life and how they have been inspired— but this is the story of Edin Džeko’s meteoric rise from the minefields of Yugoslavia to the pinnacle of European football, where he has cemented his name as one of the most prolific strikers of the past decade or so.

For most of the formative years of Džeko’s upbringing, his hometown Sarajevo was a heavily targeted area for ‘ethnic cleansing’ operations by the Bosnian Serbs in the Bosnian War, which lasted from April 1992 to February 1996, and left a devastating trail of savagery and broken families in its wake.

Known as ‘The Siege of Sarajevo’, the siege was the longest of a capital city in the history of modern warfare, as the Bosnian capital was attacked by forces of the ‘Yugoslav People’s Army’.

During the breakup of the former Yugoslavia, Bosnia and Herzegovina followed the suit of other states and declared independence. The Bosnian Serbs had the strategic goal of creating a new Bosnian-Serb state known as Republika Srpska. They encircled Sarajevo with a siege force of more than 13,000, assaulting the city with artillery, tanks and other arms.

In the years of the war, nearly 14,000 people were killed, including over 5,000 civilians. Edin Džeko and his family lived in the middle of Sarajevo, so the sound of bombs and explosions were not rare.

Luckily, the Džeko family survived, but that didn’t prevent the events having a long lasting negative affect both physically and psychologically.

The family home of the Džeko’s was destroyed in this period, along with 35,000 other homes in the city. They had to move between substandard homes, if they could be described as ‘homes’, probably better described as a living space secured with not much more than a door diseased with bullet holes from the conflict, with no more than one meal per day.

Edin Džeko is tough, with a strong mentality. What was going on outside wouldn’t stop him from expressing his passion: football.

At the time of Džeko’s birth, Yugoslavia was becoming one of the powerhouses of football. The national team reached the quarter finals of the 1990 World Cup in Italy, to be knocked out by Argentina led by the great Diego Maradona, whilst Red Star Belgrade won the 1991 European Cup. Shortly after this, however, the conflict started as the Yugoslav army went to war with separatist Croatia, before Bosnian Serbs aimed to remove all other ethnicities from their land.

Sport as we know it today was virtually rendered into non-existence, especially in a competitive sense. There were no organised matches or tournaments to watch, as the war plagued leisure activities in Bosnia. This did not affect one thing: passion. The people loved sport, especially football, and Edin Džeko was no exception to this.

Bosanki Dijamant, which translates to ‘The Bosnian Diamond’, spent a large majority of his childhood kicking a ball of rolled up duct tape around the war torn surroundings in his hometown.

His mother, Belma, was skeptical of the idea of her young son being on the streets, but conceded that for Edin, the only way to disconnect from the tragic conflict was for him to follow his dreams and play football.

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Despite this, one day Belma refused and told her son that he must not leave the house on that day. She made the right call. That day, the field and area where the future Bosnian captain played, was bombed and all but destroyed.

The kids of today perhaps take their upbringings for granted, if you compare them to Džeko and other children of Sarajevo. The modern childhood probably consists of days playing video games and spending some time outside with friends. For Džeko, however, it was a matter of life and death – it is hard to play in a field that may be blown up the next minute.

These harrowing experiences never thwarted Džeko’s dream: to be a footballer. He never dreamt of being the star that he is today, he never thought about the fame, he never considered the money he could one day make. For Džeko, it was the simple fact that he lived and breathed football and he wanted to express his ultimate passion.

Often in life, bad experiences shape us. The war helped Džeko mature at such a young age – he had to, there was no other option if he wanted to survive. Football was one of the few things Džeko had in his tarnished childhood, so if anything, the war grew his love for the beautiful game that he has become a master of.

Džeko continued to follow his dreams and just after the war, was signed up by his first professional club, FC Željezničar Sarajevo. The name Željezničarmeant ‘railway worker’, originating from the group of railway workers who established the club in 1921. Finally, it looked as though Džeko had made his break in professional football and completed his dream.

Sadly, however, it didn’t work out for Džeko at the most successful club in modern day Bosnia. Fans and journalists close to the club described Džeko as ‘klok’, a slang word that best translates as (wooden) ‘log’ in English. Despite his childhood idol being Andriy Shevchenko, Džeko played as a midfielder in his early days. He was too tall and his lanky structure meant he struggled, as he lacked the technical abilities needed to thrive as a creative player. He was labeled lazy and told he was not cut out to be a professional footballer.

To succeed, he had to move – both playing position and country. And so he did. In 2005, Džeko moved to Czech Republic club FK Teplice for the fee of €25,000. Years later, one of the Željezničar directors claimed this fee felt like their club had “won the lottery”. After two good goal-scoring seasons in the Czech leagues, Džeko was signed for VFL Wolfsburg by Felix Magath for a €4m fee.

During his time at Wolfsburg, Džeko was part of one of the most historic seasons in German history, playing a huge role as Die Wölfewon their first ever Bundesliga title in 2008/09. Along with Brazilian Grafite and fellow Bosnian Zvjezdan Misimović, Džeko completed what was known as the ‘magisches Dreieck’, or‘magic triangle’, as the trio led Magath’s side to unprecedented glory.

The next season, Džeko scored 22 goals and won the golden boot in the Bundesliga. After years of struggling to impress professional scouts and coaches in his homeland, Džeko was thriving in Germany. He left his comfort zone and excelled – all those hours in the minefields of Sarajevo paid off, as Džeko looked like a natural born finisher with predator-like instinct of when to pop up in the box.

The Volkswagen Arena was the first place where Džeko truly played with no pressure and for this, he molded into a top striker.

His ex coach at Željezničar, Jiří Plišek, said: “I met him [Džeko] for the first time in 2003 when I started to coach Željezničar. He was 17 and amazingly no one saw him as any kind of talent, but I saw his gift.”

Sadly, this has been one of the themes running through the career of The Bosnian Diamond: many do not appreciate him for what he is and many do not notice or appreciate his vast array of talent – almost a case of, to quote teenagers going through high-school breakups, ‘you don’t know what you’ve got until you lose it’.

That was the case for fans of his next club, Manchester City. In the Premier League,Džeko was often viewed as ‘good, but not great’, and would almost certainly feature in a fantasy XI made up solely of ‘super-subs’. In Manchester, Džeko played a huge role in two title wins for City under Roberto Mancini and then Manuel Pellegrini.

The first time round, Džeko was the prequel to the Agüero-ooooo goal, where his header leveled the score before Argentinian Sergio Agüero scored the most memorable goal in Premier League history to win his side their first league title in a whopping forty-four years. Three seasons later, Džeko played a pivotal role in City’s 13/14 title win, scoring 26 goals despite often playing second fiddle to the partnership of Sergio Agüero and Alvaro Negredo. Again, Džeko will often be secondarily cited as a reason for City’s success, instead many will note the brilliance of Yaya Touré’s heroics or Steven Gerrard’s unfortunate slip against Chelsea.

Džeko turned down the opportunity to play for the national teams of countries he played in, such as the Czech Republic and Germany. Instead, whenever he wins a trophy, as he did plenty of times in the sky blue of Manchester City, he drapes himself in the blue and yellow flag of Bosnia, grasping the flag aloft with the same pride as he held high the iconic Premier League trophy two times.

Now, Džeko is a dime of Bosnia. When he scores a goal for the national team, it represents much more than a goal to add to the score-sheet: it is a goal for every Bosnian that went through physical and mental pain in the 90’s; it is a goal for peace; it is a dedication to all those that were not as fortunate as Edin Džeko to survive and become a sporting great, or a national icon.

Muhamed Jonjić, ex-defender and first ever captain of the Bosnia-Herzegovina national team in 1995, speaks extremely fondly of Džeko: “We see him rise through all that and make his global career, to become a great – a Bosnian great, a world great – but he stayed the same boy. Genuine, kind and straightforward – that’s the beauty of his greatness.”

Džeko kept his humble character despite being a superstar. Ahead of the 2014 World Cup that Bosnia qualified, which is another story in itself, Edin Džeko took part in a charity friendly to raise funds and awareness for floods that engulfed villages and cities in Bosnia, Serbia and Croatia, that caused damage beyond repair. Along with his other team-mates, Džeko and the Bosnia national team played against 100 children from families affected by the devastating floods.

That day, there was only one Edin Džeko, for obvious reasons, but on the pitch, every child tried to imitate their hero, by wearing shirts with ‘Džeko #9’ on the back and trying to play football in the style of their role model.

After seemingly conquering England and Germany before it, Džeko sought a new challenge, so moved to the eternal city of Rome, signing for AS Roma. Whilst the Bosnian has no Serie A titles to his name, his legacy will live on with the Giallorossias he won the golden boot with 29 goals in the league, and has been part of many famous nights in Rome.

It was indeed Edin Džeko that started the unforgettable comeback as his side ‘rose from their ruins’ in Rome to defeat the mighty Barcelona, who had a 4-1 advantage going into the second leg. His name will rarely be mentioned when talking about that day, as it is when discussing City’s title win in the last minute against Queens Park Rangers. This adds to the common theme that Džeko goes rather unnoticed in the wider footballing community, and is vastly underappreciated.

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The story charting the journey of Edin Džeko is inspiring. It may not be the tale of a glittering career, dusted with Balon d’or’s and World Cup trophies, nor will Džeko go down as one of the best strikers to grace our leagues, but the story carries weight nevertheless.

It is the story of a boy, who kicked a ball around a park and went home at night not knowing if the park would be there the next day. It is the story of a Bosnian child who watched buildings and families be destroyed one by one alongside him, who went on to be a great. It is the story of how tragedy shaped ones passion and how a young man with a dream went on to represent his beloved Bosnia at a World Cup, despite having the chance to play for Czech or German national teams.

Edin Džeko will never be spoke about in the same breathe as the greats at his clubs. But, as the only player to have 50 or more league goals in England, Germany and Italy, he should be regarded as one of the most underrated players of his generation.

The war child from Sarajevo disproved the feeling that it was not possible to succeed from Bosnia as a sportsman, by clinging on to his love and passion for football at a time when there was little else to smile about. Džeko remained humble and rose from the depression of his house covered in bullet holes, to conquer three of the best leagues in the world.

As a story, Džeko’s career has a few chapters left yet. He isn’t a player that relies on pace. Instead he uses his ‘slow and lazy’ approach, which saw him sold by his first club FC Željezničar, to light up the biggest stages in world football. Thus, there is still life in the big Bosnian yet.

If you have learned one thing from this story, make it be: do not undermine or underrate the talent and character of Edin Džeko – he will continue to prove you wrong, just as he has done from a young boy through to becoming Bosnia’s greatest ever player and a prolific goal-scorer around the continent.

Opinion: 5 things Manchester City need to change if they are to win the Champions League

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Humans are habitual, they get a sense of pride and fulfilment by collecting things. Often, they are tangible items, things of little monetary value, yet of huge sentimental value. For most people, their hobby could be collecting antiques or empty bottles. I am not one of those people, as my biggest passion is in sport. Every gig or football match I attend, I keep the ticket stub safe and attach sentimental value to them, knowing that one day a decade or two down the line I will look back and remember everything about that night, with tickets from big City games or concerts of my favourite artists springing to mind.

Some collections are finite, many are not. A sticker book for example, you get a feeling of fulfilment once you have got every sticker – as a kid, you would spend your break at school trading sticker books and be in a never-ending search for the all allusive shiny sticker to complete your sticker book (usually some forgotten iconic player such as Ivan Campo, but that’s just my experience).

Yet, often, collections aren’t tangible. For me, I have a collection of Manchester City memories, but this collection is metaphorically similar to the sticker books of primary school days. It is missing one sticker.

I am only 21, I can’t brag that I was with City for three decades through the poor times. I wasn’t at York away and I was only two years old when Paul Dickov scored that goal in ’99. I have been lucky to see majorly good things at my club City and have mainly happy memories watching them win trophies at the Etihad, or on a sunny day at Wembley.

But yet, something is missing. One piece of my collection is missing: the Champions League.

I have been treated to watching some of the greats of the Premier League era strut their stuff at the Etihad, under the tutelages of the iconic Roberto Mancini and then Manuel ‘Mr. Nice Guy’ Pellegrini, through to the best manager in world football, Josep Guardiola.

The FA Cup and the League Cup have been ticked off my list, too. One thing is left to conquer: the Champions League. Then I could say with pride: “I have seen City win everything there is to win in England” (N.B. the Europa League/UEFA Cup of old and Community Shield are rendered somewhat irrelevant in my mind, although I have ‘ticked off’ the latter twice).

Evidently, City winning the Champions League would bring a sense of fulfilment to me. If I could get a ticket to the final, I am sure it would be remembered in the best days of my life. I am also certain that if City were to do it, it would be in peak ‘typical City’ fashion, probably scoring a last minute winner via a goal scored by the most unlikely source: let’s say for arguments sake it would be Kyle Walker who accidentally got in the way of Aguero’s shot and deflected it in off his backside.

If City are to do it and win the jugular, so to speak, Pep Guardiola seems the man to do it. Yet, in his first two seasons in Manchester, it hasn’t gone too well. In 2017, it was the free-flowing Monaco who played City off the park in the principality, whereas in 2018 it was Klopp’s Liverpool who got one over on City yet again.

The ghosts of Anfield and the Stade Louis II may haunt Pep Guardiola and although he puts on a brave face and adopts the attitude that the Premier League is much more important, the Catalan coach will hurt inside and have nightmares about his Champions League shortfalls in Manchester.

So, enough of the boring personal analogies and more of the football, what do Manchester City have to do to win the Champions League? Here, I have listed five things that Guardiola’s men must do (or change) to win Europe’s elite competition:

1. Believe

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“The only difference guys, between Real Madrid, Barcelona and us is that they are f*cking believers.”

“To climb the highest mountain guys is not about this, it’s about this”, Guardiola said as he pointed to his footballing brain.

These words from Guardiola stuck with me. They were said prior to the Liverpool defeat over two legs in the Champions League last season. City’s coach lauded over his team, saying on the field they were the best in the world, but one thing is holding them back: belief.

It is the singular word that I cited when previewing City’s European season for Breaking the Linesand is also the word that I used when describing City’s spineless performances against Liverpool and Manchester United in that catastrophic week that saw them lose the Manchester Derby and then be knocked out of the Champions League.

That day in the loss to United I used the word ‘winners’. It may be slightly different to ‘belief’ but the essence is the same.

When you look at Real Madrid, you see natural born winners: Sergio Ramos, Marcelo, Toni Kroos, Cristiano— not anymore, but at the time, you almost knew they would win the Champions League because of this plethora of leaders who have ‘been there, done that’ and have the experience to conquer Europe again.

It is the sort of player that if a game is not going their way, they can turn it in the favour of their team (more on that in part 4).

On the pitch, I have every belief that City are the best team in the world with the best coach at the helm. But do they have the belief?

Do they believe in themselves to think not just “we can have a chance at the Champions League this season”, but “we will win the Champions League this season”. They have belief in the Premier League, they filmed the infamous Etisalat advert where they are referred to as Champions in February.

I’m not saying they should do a Germany of Russia 2018 and book their hotel for the final in advance, which would be in Madrid for the final at the Wanda Metropolitano, but City players need to believe they have what it takes to win the Champions League.

If City do that, they can win it.

2. Resilience

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Again, referring to that defeat at Anfield, as well as that demolishing at the Stade Louis II in Monaco, City showed they have little resilience in big games.

“But, City had a great defensive record in the league last season and Otamendi got into the team of the year”, I hear you say.

This is not an assassination of City’s defence. They have a great back four with some of the best talents in the world, including two marauding full backs and a quartet of central defenders who all bring something different to the table.

Resilience in these terms isn’t a question of how many goals a team can prevent, it is how they react to a goal being scored.

When City go one goal behind, you can almost physically see the morale drop – the body language becomes languid, the chins drop, players start pointing the finger about.

At the annual loss at Anfield, City always start well and are usually as good as their opponent, if not the better team, but when Liverpool go one goal up, the heads collectively drop and it is almost that defeat is accepted at that moment.

City have so far lacked the ability to proverbially say: “Right, five minutes, let’s get our heads and compose ourselves, then go from there.”

It was this that cost them in Monaco, Liverpool and multiple league games in Pep’s tenure, especially in the 2016/17 season. It is not a coincidence that often when City go 1-0 down, they go 2-0 down shortly after.

It is a fundamental flaw of the team that needs fixing, one that I am sure Guardiola is working on to put right. Things in football don’t go your way all season, there will be moments when you struggle on the pitch.

City’s resilience in this way has cost them in the past two seasons, and is an issue they must fix.

3. The fans

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14th September, 2011: Manchester City v Napoli. It is Manchester City’s first ever Champions League match. The stadium is packed with fans, with many missing out on tickets for one of the biggest nights in the clubs history. People get to the ground abnormally early, going against their usual match day routine because it’s a huge night and they want to be in to soak up the atmosphere.

Unfortunately for City, they were knocked out at the group stages that season, with Bayern Munich rampant and a Napoli side led by Cavani, Lavezzi and Hamsik dominant. But, this wasn’t seen as a disaster at the time, after all it was City’s debut season.

A few managers and Premier League titles later, City are one of the best teams in the world. The fans do not match that. Where has the attitude that you should feel honoured to be in the Champions League gone? Where has the anticipation of these cold nights in Manchester where you can see mist descending in the South Stand gone?

Champions League group stage matches are now on the same level as a home cup tie with lower league opposition, with the club’s methods of getting people through the doors failing, evidently.

The attendance at the home fixture to Lyon this week was 41,000 – it’s an issue for another discussion but it highlights the overriding problem: City fans have a disconnection with the Champions League and only turn up when it’s the business end of the competition, or when the big boys such as Barca and Bayern play at the Etihad.

One can’t help but wonder whether the attitude of the fans trickles down on to the pitch, whether the blasé, ‘can’t be bothered with this competition attitude’ affected the players in the Lyon defeat.

Whether it be prices, travel, work commitments, weather or whatever else, many City fans think it is better to stay at home on many European nights.

When thinking about this, I asked the fan base what the best atmosphere they have experienced at the Etihad was. The results were interesting, but one answer came up time and time again.

The Aguero goal? No. The Manchester Derby where City virtually won the league? No.

In fact, it was City’s Europa League quarter-final second-leg tie with German outfit Hamburg. City did not qualify that night, but the atmosphere has stuck with fans for the ten years after.

The whole ground was behind the team and it reflected on the pitch. The great Elano hit the woodwork more than once, and the collective “Ooooh!” from the crowd left ears ringing around the stadium for minutes to follow.

The 1894 Group do a great job of creating an atmosphere in the South Stand, and the flags and banners for some Champions League nights has been admirable in recent years.

However, should City really progress and be serious about the Champions League, the mindset of the fans must change and they must try and will City over the line as they tried to do in the second leg to Liverpool last season, or in the triumph against Paris St-Germain in 2016.

Whether this starts with moving on from booing the Champions League anthem and focusing more on their own team, I am not sure, but with a rocking Etihad Stadium (like we know it can be, but 9 times out of 10 isn’t), City can really go far in this competition.

4. Keep De Bruyne fit

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Now, obviously, this is out of the control of Manchester City FC, but… if City are to win the Champions League, they need their star man fit, just as Real Madrid needed Ronaldo to help them to their record three-on-the-bounce.

Kevin De Bruyne is more than City’s best player, he is a leader. Maybe not in the conventional sense, like a Vincent Kompany or a traditional captain barking orders and encouragement to his players. However, De Bruyne is a leader in the fact he leads by example football wise.

When the rest of the players are having an off day, Kevin De Bruyne is always the one to step it up and up his game to another level, which rubs off on the other players.

He is also often the player to score the goals in the tough games, earning him the ‘big game player’ tag.

Without De Bruyne, especially in the away games and tough home ties, City look void of ideas, lacking a driving force with a brain from midfield.

Should City progress further than ever in this competition, they need this leadership figure on the pitch.

5. Adaptability

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“I only believe in Plan A. Plan B is to get Plan A to work” – Marcelo Bielsa.

The Argentinian coach El Loco is one of Guardiola’s inspirations in coaching and the Catalan certainly adopts some of the ideologies of the revolutionary coach who is now at Leeds United. 

It is a view that is admirable. You very rarely see Guardiola sub on a 6 foot 5 target man if chasing a goal (not that he has any to do so, anyway), nor do you see him put on an extra defender in midfield, unless it is to run down the clock in the 93rd minute.

But, is it a view that is flawed?

As a Manchester City supporter, we often purr over the attacking and exciting football we are treated to at the Etihad, whilst criticising the somewhat ‘boring’ defensive performances we see over the city, but sometimes in big away Champions League ties, could Guardiola slightly alter?

It wouldn’t be drastic. It would not be a Mourinho of Chelsea and play David Luiz alongside Nemanja Matic and Ramires in a stubborn midfield. It would be more of a ‘let’s not commit every single man forward when we go forward and be more conservative’.

Guardiola has a plethora of options up his sleeve to adapt his attacking setup to break down stubborn sides such as those who ‘park the bus’ and sit in deep at the Etihad – he can switch formations in game with ease, as we saw in the win over Arsenal at the Emirates earlier this season, but can Guardiola learn to adapt his sides to be more solid at the back?

Pellegrini’s City couldn’t win the Champions League because of Pellegrini’s stubbornness to change from his 4-4-2 (a midfield duo of Toure and Fernandinho at the Bernabeu, nightmares).

Guardiola should learn these lessons and slightly alter his team in big away fixtures in the latter stages of this competition.

Despite the loss to Lyon, Manchester City have a real chance of winning this seasons Champions League, with a number of factors in their favour.

Last season, for one reason or another, City fell short in the Champions League. Despite this, they are ready to win Europe’s elite competition and if they put a few minor faults right, they are worthy favourites.

Also, if you read this you may think it is dramatically overreacting: it is. That’s what Manchester City fans do, they will never change. No matter how good City get, the fan base will always go into games expecting to lose: after all, City are the club who beat Barcelona and drew to Middlesbrough in the same week.

On a personal note, the Champions League is still a distant dream, but when I have my realistic head on, I know that Manchester City are worthy favourites. If they put these few things right, City can (will?) win it. 

Opinion: Bernardo Silva proves City will be in good hands when his namesake retires

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When Manchester City announced the signing of Portuguese winger Bernardo Silva from AS Monaco in the summer of 2016, eyebrows were raised at the £43m price tag.

Rival fans criticised Pep Guardiola and City for spending big money on a player who only really had one top season under his belt, and wasn’t even a guaranteed starter at The Eithad, with Raheem Sterling and Leroy Sané seemingly dislodgeable in the starting eleven.

Yet, supporters of the ever-growing club who announced a club record income and further profits this week, were delighted at the signing of the Portuguese trickster who starred in Monaco’s surprise Champions League run under coach Leonardo Jardim.

From all corners of the Etihad, the winger was an exciting acquisition and fans started to speculate. Although he played predominantly as a right-winger in his opening season, fans had a vision for Bernardo Silva: to eventually be moulded into a central midfield player where he could star for City.

In fact, it was more than become a midfielder that City fans tasked and envisioned Bernardo Silva with, it was to take the reign of David Silva, Manchester City’s greatest ever player.

He first made his name amongst the City fan base in February 2017, during the Champions League clash between City and Bernardo’s Monaco.

Kylian Mbappé’s performances over two legs were heavily dissected as ‘a star was born’, but for many, Bernardo Silva was the shining light both at the Etihad and the return leg at the Stade Louis II, where Monaco played Pep Guardiola’s side off the park.

That performance in the principality of Monaco surely took the eye of Guardiola, who reportedly contacted the Portuguese star.

Fast-forward a few months, Bernardo Silva signed for City, becoming Guardiola’s first signing of a summer that will be remembered long in the memory of City fans, as they added the likes of Ederson, Benjamin Mendy and Kyle Walker to strengthen weak areas and set them up for a record-breaking season.

Although he made the most appearances for City last season, Bernardo Silva took a few months to get going, only really making substitute appearances in the first half of the season.

In the second half of the season, perhaps helped by the injuries of Leroy Sané and Raheem Sterling, Bernardo Silva came into his own, with fine performances against many top opposition that saw him on the scoresheet against Liverpool, Chelsea and Arsenal to name a few.

This pre-season signified a change for Bernardo Silva, however. After a below-par World Cup for Portugal, he returned to Manchester and was one of the first of City’s sixteen that went to Russia to join the pre-season tour of the United States.

There, Guardiola worked and worked on Bernardo Silva as a midfielder. After some eye-catching displays on tour in the States, it would seem that following a season used to settle into the new tempo of the Premier League, Bernardo Silva was ready for a place in Pep Guardiola’s demanding midfield.

In beating Chelsea 2-0 at Wembley in the Community Shield, his coach was full of praise.

“The performance of Bernardo Silva was a masterpiece,” Guardiola said.

“Right now, it is Bernardo and 10 others.”

“He is so intelligent, he is clever. He is a fighter, a competitor. I think he is the guy most beloved in our team and today he showed me a lot of things.”

Although Bernardo Silva showed promising glimpses at Wembley and in the victory over Arsenal at the Emirates, which included a well taken goal, the performance of Silva yesterday against Fulham was mesmeric.

City defeated Jokanovic’s side with ease at the Etihad, with goals from Sané, David Silva and Sterling, it was Bernardo Silva who was the name on many fans lips leaving the ground.

Bernardo managed five key passes, an 89.7% pass accuracy as well as 5 chances created. A smile could be seen on the face of the player who was awarded man of the match in the stadium.

The little magician, who was nicknamed ‘Messizinho’ when playing for SL Benfica, showed why he earned such names.

After David Silva made it 2-0 to City, I tweeted my joy for the player.

On a personal note, sometimes when I watch players I get a buzz inside. It is very rare and only a handful of players can bring this out of me. Lionel Messi did it when he was making his name at Barca, Kylian Mbappé was another with his performance against Argentina at the World Cup, Kevin De Bruyne against Stoke City when he racked up assist after assist in a 7-2 win, but it is rare.

Bernardo Silva did that. Watching him live at the Etihad yesterday was a pleasure.

I compared him to City’s biggest stars, the midfield partnership that ran the Premier League last season. The midfield partnership that sadly, only has a year or so left. If they had years ahead, there is no doubt they would go down as one of the best midfield duo’s in recent history, along with the likes of Xavi and Iniesta or Kroos and Modric.

Sadly for City fans, David Silva’s career is coming to an end. El Mago will be remembered as one of the greats of the Premier League era, but sadly, it is nearly over and the day of his departure is ever approaching.

But yesterday, City fans showed something that proved to them that Bernardo Silva could take that role and leave City in safe hands for years to come.

His nonchalant touch, his passing ability, the way he drove forward and linked the midfield and attack – just a few things to note from a memorable performance.

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“It’s almost impossible to be more pleased as a manager. That’s why he deserves to play all the minutes he’s playing. He’s a good example for us, all the guys”, said Guardiola after the game.

“Thank you so much to Manchester City for buying him.”

The only thing holding Bernardo back from getting full marks and a 10/10 was the fact he didn’t add a goal, missing a couple of chances that he could have done better with.

Soon, David Silva will move on, it will be a devastating day for all concerned with City, but yesterday especially showed that City are in great hands – Bernardo Silva is the heir to the throne that David Silva has reigned from for his eight-year stay in Manchester.

Man City’s £500m revenues explained: Football Finance expert Kieran Maguire talks to Lewis Steele

Lewis Steele, on behalf of City Watch, spoke to football finance expert Kieran Maguire about the Manchester City accounts that were released today:

Manchester City announced profits for the fourth consecutive year in their annual financial report, which was publically released on Thursday. City posted total revenues of £500.5m and a profit of £10.5m.

The club become only the second English club in history to surpass £500m in annual revenues, and only the fifth club to reach this figure, along with Manchester United – who release their results next Tuesday – Real Madrid, Barcelona and Bayern Munich.

It has been known for the past five years or so that Manchester City are here to stay at the top table in terms of footballing ability, having won three Premier League titles in seven years. However, it is becoming evident that the club are becoming a global elite that soon will be renowned as a ‘super-club’, not too far below the perch of the likes of Barcelona and Real Madrid.

August marked the ten-year anniversary of the infamous takeover of his highness Sheikh Mansour, on that dramatic day that saw Robinho sign for the club.

At the time, many pundits and speculators predicted the money would dry up. The narrative was that City would potentially win a trophy or two, but then the Sheikh was to ‘get bored’ and walk away, leaving a trail of next to no business plan behind him.

Those predictions were false. City now have a sustainable model that has a clear plan, led by Sheikh Mansour who has a dream to build a global corporation that could change the game forever, whilst ripping up and re-writing the record books on the pitch in the process.

But, what do these numbers mean? Lewis Steele spoke to football finance expert Kieran Maguire (@KieranMaguire) to crunch the numbers and gain a qualitative perspective beyond the numbers on City’s results released on Thursday.

Maguire is a lecturer in football finance at the University of Liverpool and runs the website priceoffootball.com, which analyses the financial side of football. Often, PriceOfFootball is looking at the negative state of play at clubs such as Hull or Newcastle, but today’s results are exciting ones for all Manchester City supporters.

All graphs to follow are credited to Kieran Maguire and PriceOfFootball.

The key figure that will take the eye of fans is the simplest one: income. City sit second in the ‘table’ for income, with Manchester United’s 2017 accounts showing United as leading the way.

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It should be noted that the results from the other ‘big six’ clubs are taken from their 2017 results, and also that Arsenal and Liverpool’s figures should change due to the Champions League, be it not making the competition for the former or progressing to the final for the latter.

Maguire explained to City Watch: “City have the fifth highest match-day income in the Premier League. A combination of not being in London, fewer tickets available to football tourists and relatively low ticket prices have the club a way behind its rivals. City fans will welcome the ticket prices of course.

Where City have excelled is in relation to commercial income. The club is far less reliant on links with Abu Dhabi companies than a few years ago, and it is essential this area is used as  much as possible. It’s common knowledge that United’s commercial department are ruthlessly efficient but City have done well to take the number two position.”

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City lose out on match-day income but more than make up for it in broadcast and commercial income. City’s record-breaking season meant that they were often subject to being chosen for TV coverage and also the club constantly agreed new commercial partnerships for the new season, including the much mocked deals with Etisalat and Tinder, to name a couple.

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In the income split since the takeover stats, it is particularly pertinent to look at the decrease in the match-day income percentage when compared to an increase in the commercial income percentage.

In 2006, match-day income accounted for a quarter of City’s annual income. Twelve years later, it accounts for 11%, with commercial and broadcast incomes increasing in percentage.

From this, it could be said that City do not heavily rely on match-day income and quite literally, sadly, getting fans through the door isn’t the biggest concern financially. Should a club of City’s size reduce ticket prices, for example, it would not affect them massively, which is a belief that many German clubs have applied—that’s a debate for another day.

Being a big club obviously comes with drawbacks. City have a plethora of costs. The main costs for a club of City’s size are players, in terms of both wages and amortization, which is the cost of a transfer fee spread over a contract.

Maguire notes: “It’s a bit difficult comparing wages to the previous season, as City in 2017 produced accounts for 13 instead of 12 months, but they rose by about 6%. Partly due to bonuses paid for winning trophies, and partly due to increasing staff numbers by about a quarter.

Expect United’s wage bill to be close to £300m when the results are published next week. What is good from City’s point of view is that the club does have control over this area, and is paying only £52 in wages for every £100 of income, a vast improvement from a few years ago.”Screen Shot 2018-09-14 at 23.44.02

One big insult thrown in the face of City’s fans is along the lines of: “well, City have bought the league”, implying that Pep Guardiola’s men only won because the club had an open chequebook to throw around and sign whoever they want, regardless of the price.

Maguire says: “This is one in the eye for anyone who claims that City have bought success, as in the last five years in particular wages have been under close control.”

 

Screen Shot 2018-09-14 at 23.44.08In the early days of the Sheikh revolution, the wages/income percentage figures looked worrying, with City admittedly spending big money and often being made to over pay for players to tempt them to City, at a time when English domination was a dream rather than a reality.

Now, City do not have to pay over the odds. Obviously, if they sign the best players, they still have to pay them big money. But now, it is more that players see the project at the Etihad and want to join regardless of the money.

From a City perspective, one thing is particularly striking from the above graph. Around 2013, the figure suddenly drops, and remains consistent to this day.

Perhaps coincidentally, director of football Txiki Begiristain joined the club in late 2012. The ex-Barcelona winger and director of football has ran City’s transfer business excellently and is an expert negotiator, albeit sometimes has been criticized for missing out on big targets such as Alexis Sanchez and Jorginho due to his stubborn nature.

In the year to 30 June 2018, City spent £328m on players. Maguire said: “City spent £328 million on players in the year to 30 June 2018, a record amount. This was certainly a contributory factor to the club’s success, but has been followed by relative austerity as the accounts also show the net spend since then is only £42 million.”

With all these gritty numbers, the one that will make the headlines is the magic P word: profit.

Maguire told City Watch: “Profit is income less costs. There are more types of profit than there are bizarre excuses from Mourinho when United lose a match. The one we’ve used here is called EBITDA and is commonly used by analysts to work out how much cash profit a business makes from day to day trading.

City’s EBITDA profit was £125 million last season and further evidence that the club is on a solid footing. The investment in the early days of Mansour ownership saw heavy losses, but as City became established at the top table of the Premier League and regularly qualified for the Champions League these turned into profits.”

Screen Shot 2018-09-14 at 23.44.14In the first five years following the takeover, City recorded a loss. Sheikh Mansour’s strategy seemed rash, as he invested heavily at the start of his reign, but with successes on the pitch, many factors contributed to the fact that City are now a profitable organization.

Today’s results are definitely pleasing from a Manchester City perspective, with the future looking bright.

Maguire concluded: “The future looks good, despite broadcast deals starting to show signs of evening out, as other revenue sources can make up for them, and effect all clubs, not just City.”

City chairman Khaldoon Al Mubarak spoke about City’s excellent results on and off the pitch, and stated: “Our journey is not complete and we have more targets to fulfil.”

“Most of the developments visible today are the result of a carefully crafted strategy – one in which organic evolution has also been allowed to thrive”.

The report states that Mansour has amounted to “more than £1.3bn over the last 10 years”.

Sheikh Mansour’s money has certainly not dried up and as Manchester City continue to grow on the pitch, their finances grow in a similar fashion.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Reasons behind Leroy Sané’s omission: interview for Focus Online (translated)

Lewis Steele had a chat with German outlet Focus Online to discuss Leroy Sané and the reasons for his omission from the Manchester City squad. Here is the translated version of the feature that was published on Focus Online

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Only 30 minutes in four games: That’s the record of Leroy Sané in the new Premier League season. We asked two reporters in Manchester why Sané has such a tough time with coach Pep Guardiola. They accuse the German national player of lacking attitude, weak training achievements and questionable lifestyle.

Last season, Leroy Sané was named best young player in the Premier League. The German national player thrilled at Manchester City with his dribbles, goals and assists – and contributed significantly to the championship title in England.

This year, the 22-year-old winger comes in four games only 30 minutes of play. Last Saturday, the low point: At the home game against Newcastle United Sané sits only in the stands.

“Leroy knew he could have shown more, we trainers are also educators and teachers.” This criticism of Sané comes not from Pep Guardiola, the current coach of Sané in Manchester, but by Norbert Elgert, his youth coach on Schalke.

After Sané had lethargically trotted over the place three years ago in a U-19 game, Elgert took him after 32 minutes from the field. “That was an important experience, and at the time I thought I did not have to do that much because I already made it to the first team,” Sané later said in an interview with the Daily Mail.

In the three years after this memo Sané took a meteoric development. The striker is now one of the dazzling stars of the Premier League. But still whispered behind held hands, the winger has a recruitment and training problem. At the championship Sané was struck by alcohol consumption

Did the 22-year-old’s early success go to hell? Lewis Steele from the Internet portal “City Watch” says: “In the Manchester City area, you hear again and again that Sané is still very childlike.” Steele continues: “After the team became champions, there was a big party with alcohol and some people say that Sané has had too many drinks again and that he still lacks the maturity of a professional.”

Simon Bajkowski is a sports journalist at the “Manchester Evening News”. For the British, it was “no surprise” that Guardiola stroked the Germans at home against Newcastle completely out of the squad.

Bajkowski reports: “We talked to Guardiola during the preparatory trip to the US He said back then that Sané would have to improve his game without a ball, and between the lines you hear again and again: ‘Sané has to work harder’.”

In the Amazon series “All or Nothing”, for which Manchester City was accompanied during the past season, Guardiola assures that he always defends his players in public and supports them privately.

As the English reporters now repeatedly ask for the German after the game against Newcastle, Guardiola is becoming more sensitive. Finally, he answers the question of whether he is satisfied with Sané’s training performance and attitude with a thin-lipped: “Yes”.

“Guardiola punished Sané to send a signal to the team” Manchester City’s state-of-the-art training ground is foreclosed like a high-security complex. There are almost no public training sessions in England.

Nevertheless, Lewis Steele from the club-related portal “City Watch” reported: “Guardiola punished Sané to send the team a signal: Who is lazy, flies out.”

A flaw that may have cost him participation in the World Cup. Sané shines on the court often with his carefreeness and self-confidence, which is called in England only “swagger”. Offside the place he is still accused of arrogance and lack of attitude again and again.

“Manchester Evening News” reporter Bajkowski, who traveled with the club through the US, recalls: “It was sad to hear that Sané got up early every morning to watch the World Cup.” Löw has called Sané despite the form low now in the DFB squad. The ex-Schalke, who made his Germany debut in Paris three years ago against France, will be highly motivated. And that’s a good sign for him.