‘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.

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.

Rampant Wolves get second straight win: Wolves v Burnley report

Nuno Espirito Santo’s Wolves registered a second straight Premier League victory as they saw off a poor Burnley side at Molineux on Sunday afternoon.

A lone second-half strike from Raul Jimenez was all that settled the sides in the end, as Burnley failed to win for the fifth consecutive match this season.

The scoreline of 1-0 was far from reflective of how the match went, as Wolves were dominant from start to finish.

Newly promoted side Wolves created chance after chance as Burnley struggled to get out, often suffocated by the press of Santo’s side.

The first half started with Wolves in the ascendancy and it was surprising that they did not take the lead.

Joe Hart, who has revived his career somewhat after a forgettable two years at Torino and West Ham, was the star of Burnley’s dismal show.

In fact, the ex-England number one answered every question that Wolves threw at him, with the aid of his back four who constantly put their bodies on the line to clear.

If you watched the game not knowing anything about these sides, you would be shocked to hear that Burnley finished 7th last season in the Premier League, whilst Wolves were playing in the second flight.

The game almost felt like a cup tie, with Burnley clinging on for dear life. Time after time, Hart would make a terrific save or a defender would clear off the line.

Pinball was the best word to describe the ball, as Wolves cannoned the Burnley goal.

Hart, who has started every Burnley game this season, had his best performance since his Manchester City days under Manuel Pellegrini in the 13/14 title winning season.

Sadly for Wolves, however, they could not penetrate and score a goal, so entered the half time break level.

After a bit more of prodding, Wolves did find the breakthrough.

Matt Doherty, who was a constant source of attacking threat, pulled back a low cross to striker Raul Jimenez who nicely finished from around the penalty spot, leaving the heroic Hart with no chance.

Molineux was sent into delirium, expectant of more points after seeing their side get a steady point against champions City followed by a super victory against West Ham.

From here, there was only one winner. Wolves continued to create a plethora of chances, but failed to add to the score.

As the game went on, pessimists may have thought that Burnley would nick something with a goal against the run of play. Gudmundson had a few attempts from set pieces, but goalkeeper Rui Patricio stood tall in the Wolves goal.

Santo’s side ended the match with 30 attempts, second only to Manchester City’s haul against Huddersfield on match-day two.

Adama Traore and Leo Bonatini had chances to double the score, but Hart and co answered all questions again.

Wolves were wasteful, but they won’t care, as the three points is all that matters.

Verdict: I was super impressed with Wolves, who were worthy winners. Burnley looked a shadow of their previous selves of last season, as they were poor defensively, allowing Wolves a lot of space down the flanks. Ruben Neves dictated the play yet again, as his side look well on for the -pre-season predictions of a mid table finish. Next week, Santo’s men travel to Old Trafford to play Mourinho’s United – it will be tough, but after today’s performance, who knows? 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Talking Tactics: Javi Gracia’s Watford

Javi Gracia’s Watford are flying in the Premier League as we enter the first international break of the season, with four wins of a possible four to their name. Some say it may be a fluke, but you can only beat what is in front of you. Lewis Steele takes a look at Watford’s 4-2-2-2 and Javi Gracia’s styles that have overseen this superb start for the pre-season relegation candidates.

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It took a matter of minutes after the full time whistle at Vicarage Road for the inevitable to happen. The headlines and office jokes we saw coming when the idea of Watford beating Spurs first came into our head: “Can Watford do a Leicester?”, with bookmakers offering odds of 500/1 for Watford to repeat ‘the miracle of 2016’.

Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. It has been a great start, but ‘doing a Leicester’ won’t happen again, not in the next decade or so anyway.

Despite this, something, evidently, has been going right at Watford. After four games, The Hornets have maximum points thanks to wins against Brighton, Burnley, Crystal Palace and most recently an impressive victory against Spurs.

The shortened odds for Watford may be the talk of social media, but another bookmakers tip is quickly looking ill found: Javi Gracia was the bookies favourite to be the first through the proverbial door and the winner of the ‘sack race’ of 2018/19.

That prediction is proving to be rash and the reason for that is the fact the Spaniard is probably the least known gaffer in the division. The Spanish coach had enjoyed stints at Malaga, Rubin Kazan and other teams across the continent, but is not a household name in management.

Although with no major top flight silverware to his name, Gracia made a name for himself when at Malaga for being a ‘giant killer’, often taking points off the big boys such as Barcelona, whom he got four points against in his first season at the club.

Before Malaga, Gracia won promotion with Almeria, adopting a 4-4-2 formation with Aleix Vidal and Charles as the strikers. Gracia left before the new season due to a rift with the board, who wanted to sell the players who got them promoted.

His sides press high up the pitch but in a staggered manner, forcing teams to go long, ‘like lions swarming over a gazelle’, as has been said by Spanish experts.

Gracia has an old fashioned view of the game, believing that the harder his teams work, the better results they will get, but in general he is a modern coach that relies heavily on high pressing off the ball and has a strong focus on analysis of future opponents to pinpoint weaknesses.

He wasn’t too dissimilar as a player, with a high emphasis on tactics and organisation.

“He was always talking, correcting, organising. He understood the mechanisms, tactically he was sharp, a leader. Sometimes, like with Diego Simeone who I played with at Lazio, you know they have something. Javi has that” said former teammate Darko Kovacevic.

Off the ball, for Gracia, the ‘pressing in stages’ is key.

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The 4-2-2-2 system that Javi Gracia plays is a sister of the classic 4-4-2 that many English sides used in the first decade of the 21st century.

As is evident in the above graphic, Watford’s formation off the ball is this classic 4-4-2 with the two banks of four behind the ball, led by Deeney and Gray who initiate the pressing.

The narrow structure as is clear limits the opposition to pass from side to side, rather than advance via through-the-lines forward passes.

Most of the best attacking teams use fast, vertical passes. Watford’s setup meant that on Sunday, Spurs often had to pass in a U shape, which doesn’t really advance the play. The staggered system invites long balls, with Gracia placing trust in Cathcart and Kabasele to mop up said long balls.

The hallmark of a solid side looking for safety is normally this rigid defensive structure, making themselves hard to beat. However, what they do on the ball is what makes them stand out from a crowd of many candidates vying for a mid table finish.

On the ball, Watford have Roberto Pereyra and Will Hughes who operate in ‘free roles’. Listed on the team sheet as wide midfielders, the duo drift inside and play as central midfielders, with the former scoring three goals in August, making him a candidate for the player of the month.

Both of these attacking midfielders have dual functions and both have played many games in their career in central roles.

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In Will Hughes’ heatmap from the weekend win over Spurs (above), it is evident that although his primary position was in that deep defensive position on the right flank, but often he cut inside and affected the game from a central position.

In fact, the early season performances of Will Hughes have led to many questioning why he hasn’t been selected for the UEFA Nations League games by Gareth Southgate.

Against Tottenham, Hughes showed glimpses of his best and proved why he was brought into the Derby County side as a 16-year-old and won so many plaudits from such a young age. If he continues this form, he will certainly push for a place to fill the creative void in Southgate’s midfield.

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Hughes and Pereyra are key to Watford. They cut inside, so the width comes from the full backs Daryl Janmaat and Jose Holebas, the latter of whom has four assists to his name already this season, level with fellow left-back Benjamin Mendy at the top of the assists charts in the division.

The dynamic full back duo will bomb up and down the wing looking to create goals on the counter attack. Often, only one of them will go, allowing Watford to always have a three man defence should they be countered on.

With the importance of the wing backs and the wide midfielders highlighted, the most important role in Gracia’s side is the two who patrol the centre of the park: Ettiene Capoue and Abdoulaye Doucoure.

Football is Gracia’s life and passion, and his start to the season with Watford has been nothing short of exceptional.

His tactics bring a perfect balance – defensive solidarity and attacking prowess, caused by the use of positional play and interpretation of spaces.

By any standards, it is early days for Watford, but the tactics Gracia employs seem basic, but his players understand them and they are working to great effect.

Watford are eager to tie down the still young coach to a new deal, according to The Daily Mailand that is testament to his early season form, driven by his well thought out 4-2-2-2 formation.

Match Review: Manchester City v Newcastle United

 

Screen Shot 2018-09-02 at 10.15.27.pngManchester City earned maximum points with a 2-1 victory over a stubborn Newcastle side at the Etihad on Saturday evening.

Raheem Sterling opened the scoring early on with a deft finish, curled past Martin Dubravka in the Newcastle goal.

With their first real attack of the half, Newcastle equalised through DeAndre Yedlin, who latched on the end of a Rondon cross. The American had a tap in at the back post, despite the best efforts of Gabriel Jesus, who was the last man back as Benjamin Mendy failed to get back – much to the anger of captain David Silva.

Despite a poor showing in the first half, Pep Guardiola’s City stepped it up in the second, despite not creating many clear cut opportunities. Kyle Walker scored his first goal for the club with a thunderous strike from distance, which proved to be the winning goal in an interesting encounter in Manchester.

Talking Points

City’s English trio the best of a star studded bunch 

In a game where City didn’t really excel at their blistering best, the performances of John Stones, Raheem Sterling and Kyle Walker were exceptional.

With Benjamin Mendy back in the side, Raheem Sterling has thrice been deployed in a left wing position, allowed to cut inside and roam. At the World Cup, we saw that centrally, he is an exciting player, but he didn’t really have the players around him making movements as he does at City. From the left, his impact on the game is felt more and his goal was a well taken effort, not too dissimilar to his strike at the Emirates on the opening day.

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John Stones told BT Sport after the game that he is trying to work on five attributes:

“Clean sheets, defensively be more solid, become more of a leader, everything that comes with being a defender,” he said.

“Aerial duels, crosses into box. I never stop learning. I have got a lot to improve on in my game. They’re a few I want to improve on this season.

So far this campaign, Stones is showing all of them. I was at the game, so see things you don’t on the TV: off the ball, Stones is more and more commanding every week, encouraging players around him. He also looks extremely calm with the ball at his feet and is ever improving off the ball.

The third Englishman, Kyle Walker, showed again that he is probably the best right-back in world football, with another athletic display on and off the ball, that is not to mention his goal of the month candidate.

De Bruyne’s absence is felt

It says a lot that at half time, one of the trending topics was Kevin de Bruyne. The Belgian is rumoured to be doing well in his recovery, but is still the best part of six weeks away from a return to action.

With City’s wide men looking good, there were a few times when you thought “De Bruyne would have done better there”.

Pep Guardiola’s men missed a cutting edge or a drive from midfield to great extent, not just against Newcastle, but against Wolves the week before.

There were a few times where David Silva received the ball on the counter attack, with half the pitch to drive into – Silva is great, but this is De Bruyne’s forte.

Again, the ball broke on the edge of the box and was cleared – City fans collective murmured “who’s there?!”. De Bruyne would have been there, popping up at the right time to unleash a shot.

City got the three points yesterday, so it doesn’t really matter, but the quicker they can get their star man back, the better, as they look a bit lost without him at times.

Rafa’s Newcastle prove they should have enough to stay up 

Newcastle have been on the receiving end of 2-1 defeats to Spurs, Chelsea and now Manchester City. Rafael Benitez will feel extremely hard done by, as his side have been very unlucky on all occasions.

The Magpies didn’t have it in them to take on City and try and win the game, Benitez was realistic about that. Thus, as he did against Chelsea and Spurs, he put 10 men behind the ball and tried to absorb pressure.

For the most part, it worked – City looked frustrated and void of options at times, often having to pass sideways in a ‘U’ shape as forward passes were unavailable due to Newcastle’s tight and rigid structure.

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As a fan of football being played at a fast, fluid level, seeing teams ‘park the bus’ is frustrating, but sympathy has to be given to teams like Newcastle. Without Rafael Benitez, the team would be relegation favourites, as they don’t have a star studded line up by any stretch of the imagination – Rafa is realistic and knows that the defensive style is the best way to win points.

Newcastle enter the international break on the back of three narrow losses against big teams, but there is a lot of positive signs. Many (better) teams will go to The Etihad and lose by a bigger score this season, and that is testament to the solid Benitez outfit, that will have enough to stay up.

Player Ratings

City: Ederson 6; Walker 7, Stones 8 (MOTM), Laporte 7, Mendy 6; Sterling 8, Fernandinho 6, Silva 7, Mahrez 6; Jesus 6.5, Aguero 6.

As has been highlighted, the English trio at City was pleasing for City fans. Another bright spark was Aymeric Laporte, who seems more at home in Pep’s side every week. The partnership of himself and John Stones looks set for the future, with the duo born just one day apart and both with the twilight of their careers well ahead of them.

It was a quiet afternoon for the likes of Riyad Mahrez and Sergio Aguero for City. The former made his first home start, but struggled to impact the game. He often went long periods without seeing the ball, and his replacement Bernardo Silva instantly injected some pace and purpose about City’s play.

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Newcastle: Dubravka 8; Yedlin 7, Clark 6, Lascelles 5, Fernandez 6, Dummett 5; Kenedy 6,  Diame 5, Ki 5, Perez 6, Rondon 6.

The highlight for Newcastle today was the performance of Martin Dubravka, who is proving himself as a crude buy from Sparta Praha. The Czech goalkeeper looks a great shot stopper, but also seems more than capable when he rushes from his goal to close down attackers and made the right decision a number of times in the game at the Etihad.

The midfield duo of Mo Diame and Ki Sung-Yeung struggled at the Etihad. They struggled to get the ball off City, which is nothing to judge them by, as not many midfielders in the world do get the better of City’s midfield. However, neither looked to have a creative spark and apart from their goal, Newcastle hardly threatened Ederson’s goal, highlighting their lack of creativity. Had Shelvey been playing, Newcastle may have created more.