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Manchester City

Three talking points from Manchester City’s impressive victory over Napoli

Jake Jackman

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Manchester City

The two meetings between Manchester City and Napoli were billed as must-watches when the Champions League draw was made. The first was entertaining and saw the Premier League side record a home victory, but today’s match at the San Paulo bettered it for spectacle and exciting football. The Serie A leaders started like a house on fire and took the lead after a spell of sustained pressure through Lorenzo Insigne. The visitors bounced back thanks to a Nicolas Otamendi header before half-time. From that stage, they controlled the game and looked the better side, earning a deserved 3-2 win to put them into the next round of the competition. Here are three talking points from the match:

Manchester City are good enough to win the Champions League

The Champions League campaign of the 2016/17 season was a disappointing one and marked Pep Guardiola’s worst in the competition. Manchester City competed well in the group stages, but fell to a defeat in the round of 16 to Monaco. The second leg will have frustrated the City boss as his side fell behind early and failed to react in a convincing fashion. On Wednesday, the early stages were reminiscent of the match at the Stade Louis II, but this time, the Citizens bounced back and got back on level terms before half-time.

After half-time, they kicked on and showed their dominance with some great football. It was important to get an early goal to put themselves into the lead and they showed their ability to react again after being pulled back to 2-2. Guardiola will be pleased by the way that the team managed the game after they scored the third. They kept the ball well and tired Napoli before adding a fourth. This performance sent a message to the rest of Europe. Manchester City are serious contenders for the Champions League.

Napoli are serious contenders for the Serie A title

The Italian team bounced back to the European stage at a similar time to Manchester City and these two sides played out two great matches during the 2011/12 season. Napoli came out on top and qualified for the round of 16 on that occasion. Since then, the Neopolitans have been trying to progress into a team capable of winning major honours. Their last Serie A title came in 1990 and there had been hope of breaking that duck in the near future.

This current Napoli team look the most ready to put an end to that run. Maurizio Sarri is one of the best coaches in Europe and comes from the Pep Guardiola school of football. The Manchester City praised his opposite number in the build-up to this match and he would have been left impressed by the football played by the Italians. They went toe-to-toe with the Premier League leaders and provided them with their toughest test of the season so far.

Guardiola understands the importance of set-pieces

The focus of this season has been the excellent brand of football being played by Manchester City. They are scoring a lot of goals and playing teams off the park on a weekly basis. However, Pep Guardiola hasn’t ignored the importance of set-pieces and they were responsible for the first two City goals on Wednesday. Nicolas Otamendi and John Stones both chipped in with goals and that will please their manager.

West Brom and sides like that have been criticised for their reliance on set-pieces, but the reason lesser teams choose to function on them is that they can be heavily practiced. It is possible to perform open play drills, but situations can’t be predicted from game to game. Set pieces can and Manchester City are clearly using them effectively to add to their goal threat.

Jake is a journalist based in the South East. He is a Newcastle United fan and has a keen interest in Dutch football. Jake can be found on Twitter here - @jakejackmann.

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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Everton

Everton signing Yaya Toure would be a step in the wrong direction

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Photo: Getty Images.

This summer could be a pivotal one for Everton after what looked to be a transfer window of promise only a year ago turned into misery and abject failure with the team battling relegation come October, rather than challenging the top four.

Now, the Mirror say that Everton are one of several Premier League clubs looking to pick up free agent Yaya Toure when he departs Manchester City after eight years of service.

Whilst in theory that could be an exciting addition, a Premier League winner with immense quality, in reality it is much like the addition of Wayne Rooney last summer. A signing of a player on the decline which goes against the club’s transfer policy and reflects the poor planning in the upper echelons of Goodison Park.

(Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)

At 34-years-old, Yaya Toure is not getting any younger and he has made just one Premier League start all season, with that coming in his farewell appearance against Brighton in midweek. That may well be down to Pep Guardiola’s tactics than anything to do with Toure’s quality and fitness, but it is hard to see a player whose game is built on having an inexhaustible engine roaming forwards from deep going from one start per season to the 30 or more that Everton would expect in return for his wages.

The retired Ivory Coast international would not come cheap. His reputation and the number of offers he will undoubtedly have on the table would mean he will have no problem demanding more from any suitor, and Everton will be faced with a dilemma of if he is worth it.

Given that he will likely compete with the likes of 19-year-old Tom Davies, he may well help to mentor him and take his game to the next level, but he will also block his opportunities in the first team with no guarantee of returns despite his wages.

If Everton have not learnt from the disappointing sentimental experiment of bringing Wayne Rooney back to Merseyside last summer, when almost every other signing was a young talent with their best years ahead of them, then they are only bound to face more frustration in 2018/19.

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