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Manchester City

Kevin De Bruyne, poetry in motion, holds the key to Manchester City’s title ambitions

Rob Meech

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Manchester City‘s ruthless demolition of Stoke City at the Etihad was hailed by boss Pep Guardiola as their finest performance under his leadership.

The Cityzens maintained their unbeaten start to the season in all competitions and currently top the Premier League by two points from their Manchester rivals. Gabriel Jesus’ brace, alongside goals from Raheem Sterling, David Silva, Fernandinho, Leroy Sane and Bernardo Silva, secured the rout, which left Mark Hughes’ side shell-shocked.

Although he failed to get on the scoresheet, all the post-match talk centred on the virtuoso performance of Kevin De Bruyne, who conducted the orchestra with elegance and skill.

The Belgium playmaker was at his irresistible best and like many of his team-mates, he has taken his game to another level under Guardiola. Since making his City debut, no player has assisted more Premier League goals than De Bruyne. In a galaxy of stars, the 26-year-old has grown into the boss’s most trusted player and the cog around which City operate.

How fitting it was that, in his 100th appearance for Manchester City, De Bruyne produced a champagne display. Technically he laid on just two assists – but his class was stamped all over the performance.

He had been involved in the build-up to the opener before his audacious reverse pass cleared the path for Sane to square the ball to Sterling for the second.

The former Chelsea man then supplied a delicious cross for Jesus to add to his tally before the piece de resistance; a through ball of such precision that it split open an entire defence, enabling Sane to finish without breaking stride.

De Bruyne was substituted to a standing ovation, with those who were lucky enough to witness his masterclass still awestruck. Pundits are running out of superlatives to describe him.

It may only be October, but it is hard to imagine De Bruyne not being at the front of the queue when the end of season player awards are being dished out. On current form, he is head and shoulders above any other midfielder in the Premier League – and perhaps Europe.

Rewind 12 months and City again looked unstoppable, only to falter spectacularly before eventually finishing third. While it is far to early to proclaim them as champions-elect, there is a fluidity and and crispness to their football that has set a new benchmark.

Such is the depth in their ranks that City could theoretically field two teams with the ability to finish in the top six. Sure, Guardiola has spent enormous sums of money to revamp his squad, but he also deserves credit for improving individuals such as Raheem Sterling and John Stones.

Nobody is pretending that De Bruyne was a mediocre player when he joined City from Wolfsburg, two years ago. As the £55 million price-tag indicated, the Belgian was one of Europe’s brightest talents. However, under Guardiola, he has made a mockery of Jose Mourinho’s decision to sell him at Chelsea.

With City now looking genuine contenders for the Champions League as well as the domestic title, this is bound to be an exciting season for the club’s supporters.

But for all the talent at the Spanish manager’s disposal, City’s ambitions may well depend on a players whose sheer presence in the starting XI is enough to frighten the life out of the opposition.

To watch Kevin De Bruyne in action is to watch poetry in motion.

Rob is a freelance writer, specialising in football, who previously worked as a sports journalist at the Dorset Echo. A long-standing AFC Bournemouth supporter, Rob can often be found on the terraces at the Vitality Stadium. Follow him on Twitter - @RobMeech

Manchester City

Manuel Pellegrini’s poor China record should give West Ham cause for concern

The Chilean international looks set to join the Hammers.

Max Cohen

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Pellegrini
Photo: Getty Images

As Manuel Pellegrini inches closer to being named West Ham United’s new manager, many have applauded the potential appointment of a Premier League-winning boss.

With spells at some of the world’s most successful clubs, the Chilean is certainly an impressive acquisition for the Hammers.

Yet Pellegrini’s most recent coaching assignment has been nothing short of mediocre, a sign that should slightly worry West Ham supporters.

Pellegrini officially left Chinese Super League side Hebei China Fortune on Saturday, after just under two years at the club.

The Chilean was appointed in August 2016 and registered an unspectacular record at the club.

Pellegrini’s first season ended with Hebei in fourth position, yet the club missed out on AFC Champions League qualification by one place.

This year, the team has taken a dramatic step back in the opening months of the season.

(Photo by Geoff Caddick/Getty Images)

Under Pellegrini’s management, Hebei China Fortune currently sit eighth out of the 16-team Chinese Super League.

The side has only picked up just 15 points from 11 matches to date, a disappointing return considering Pellegrini has talents such as Ezequiel Lavezzi, Hernanes, and Gervinho at his disposal.

As the Chinese Super League is a far less important and internationally relevant league than La Liga or the Premier League, Pellegrini can perhaps be forgiven for not taking his job as seriously as his past assignments at Malaga, Real Madrid, and Manchester City.

Yet, his Chinese struggles are worrying nonetheless, as ideally West Ham supporters would like to be acquiring the services of a manager who enjoyed success at his most recent club.

In all, the ex-Manchester City manager still has a Premier League title to his name, a fact that makes his recent tough spell in Asia less concerning.

Nevertheless, Manuel Pellegrini’s underwhelming time at Hebei China Fortune reveals that the manager still possesses flaws and should not be expected to work immediate wonders at West Ham.

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Manchester City

Record-breaking Manchester City show Pep Guardiola was right not to change his philosophy

The Spaniard won his first Premier League title in swashbuckling style.

Martyn Cooke

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Photo: Getty Images

When Pep Guardiola was appointed as manager of Manchester City in the summer of 2016 it is fair to say that his arrival was met with a mixed reaction throughout British football.

First, there was obvious excitement throughout the blue half of Manchester. Guardiola was widely regarded one of the best managers of his generation after trophy-laden spells with Barcelona and Bayern Munich.

He was renowned for the exciting, possession-based style of play that he implemented and the team that he built at the Nou Camp at the start of the twenty-first century produced some of the best football of the modern era.

Then there were the sceptics – and there were plenty of them. The comments were predictable and filled with clichés, unevidenced assumptions and meaningless jargon.

It was suggested that Guardiola had only won trophies with clubs where the race for the title was a two-horse race at best and that he had always inherited world-class players.

Furthermore, it was claimed that the Spaniard’s total-football philosophy would never work in the hustle and bustle of English football.

His technical style of play would come unstuck in the so-called ‘best league in the world’ and would not be effective on a cold, wet Tuesday night at places like Stoke City in front of a tribal, raucous home support.

In his debut season with Manchester City some of the negative predictions appeared to be coming true.

(Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)

Despite winning all of their opening 10 games of the season under Guardiola, City experienced a poor run of form during the Christmas period that left them trailing their title rivals.

The team were unpredictable and inconsistent during the second half of the campaign and heavy defeats against Everton (4-0) and Leicester City (4-2) left many onlookers wondering if Guardiola had finally been sussed.

The Spaniard never shied away from the critics and he staunchly defended his philosophy despite some poor results and vowed that he would not change his style of play.

City finished the season without a trophy and the sceptics went into the summer proclaiming how they had correctly predicted Guardiola’s failure.

What a difference a year can make.

City’s last-gasp victory against Southampton on the final day of the season rounded off what has been a record-breaking campaign in which Guardiola’s team have swept aside all before them in the Premier League.

The list of achievements is remarkable.

City this season have set new records for most consecutive wins (18), most goals scored (105), most wins (32), most away points won (16), most points (100), the biggest goal difference (+79) and the biggest points gap (19).

Suddenly the sceptics are beginning to look incredibly foolish.

In truth, it is hard to remember a campaign in the modern era where one team has been dominant from start to finish in the way that City have been. Furthermore, not only have the won, but they have won with style.

Guardiola’s playing philosophy has clicked over the last twelve months, undoubtedly aided by effective recruitment during the summer, and the team have played with flair, energy, creativity, pace and innovation.

Opponents, barring perhaps Liverpool, have simply not found any way to combat City’s free-flowing football.

(Photo by Paul Ellis/Getty Images)

Critics will still point to an early exit in the FA Cup against Wigan Athletic, where City played most of the game with ten men, and defeat in the Champions League to Liverpool, where a poor first half at Anfield effectively ended the tie before it had begun, but the success of Guardiola’s style of play is undoubted.

No one is suggesting that the Spaniard needs to alter his philosophy to meet the demands of the English game anymore.

Instead, it is English football that will need to change in order to meet the challenge of Guardiola’s football revolution.

The concern for other Premier League clubs is that City are threatening to establish themselves as the new dominant force in the domestic game. There is nothing to indicate that Guardiola or the team that he has assembled will be loosening their grip on the Premier League trophy any time soon.

The future is bright. Kevin De Bruyne, Raheem Sterling, Gabriel Jesus, John Stones, Leroy Sane, Benjamin Mendy, Bernardo Silva, Aymeric Laporte and Ederson are all under the age of 26. This is a group of players that is still improving and will be hitting the peak years of their career over the next half-a-decade.

Manchester City’s success this season is just the start of what could turn into a period of unrivaled dominance, further underlining that Guardiola was right not to change his philosophy.

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English Premier League

With or without David Moyes, West Ham should target his former player John Stones

West Ham would be wise to swoop on the apparently fragile status of Stones’ Man City career.

Mathew Coull

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Back in 2013 then-Everton boss David Moyes secured the signature of a very highly rated young Yorkshireman named John Stones. The Everton manager signed the teenager from Barnsley for a fee reported by the BBC to be in the region of £3 million.

The same report suggested Everton fended off interest from the likes of Chelsea, Aston Villa, Sunderland, Manchester City and Wigan Athletic to complete the deal.

Soon enough Stones started earning rave reviews among the Everton fanbase but Moyes himself never got much chance to work with the defender. Moyes left Everton for Manchester United just six months after signing Stones. The youngster then went on to become a regular in the Everton and England defence, eventually earning a move to Manchester City – reportedly worth £47.5 million, according to Sky Sports.

(Photo credit should read Josh Edelson/AFP/Getty Images)

But this summer, should Moyes consider trying to sign Stones once again.

Despite making big improvements to his game at Manchester City, Stones looks like he could leave The Etihad this summer. The champions signed French defender Aymeric Laporte in the winter and Stones currently finds himself fourth-choice centre-back at the club.

In order to continue improving and maintain his place in the England starting XI, the defender needs to be playing regular football. Moyes, now manager at West Ham United, has the opportunity to offer him just that.

Of course, much of this depends on whether West Ham retain Moyes as manager which, according to The Telegraph, looks increasingly unlikely.

Moyes would no doubt be a big lure for Stones if West Ham were to make a move for the player, clearly as a loan deal considering the vast sum necessary to pry him from City.

(Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)

But even if Moyes does go, West Ham should try and bring the England man to the London Stadium.

He could offer a brilliant ball-playing option at the back that West Ham fans would greatly appreciate. His experience of playing at a higher level could also be vital for the development of talented Irishman Declan Rice and in a back-three, often West Ham’s recent choice, Stones is a brilliant central defender.

So, with or without Moyes at West Ham, Stones should be on the radar for the London club this summer.

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