EPL

Guardiola did not recognise City before stunning turnaround

By Sports Desk February 12, 2021

Pep Guardiola said Manchester City were "not the team I can recognise" during their early season struggles.

A defeat to Tottenham in November left them languishing 11th in the Premier League, with Jose Mourinho's men going top.

Spurs visit the Etihad Stadium on Saturday to face a City team who have not lost in 22 outings across all competitions since that match and sit five points clear at the Premier League summit.

Discussing a remarkable turnaround, Guardiola did not think the reverse at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium proved to be the pivot point.

Perhaps more damningly, he felt the nadir came the following month, when City followed up a 0-0 draw in the Manchester derby at Old Trafford by being held 1-1 at home by West Brom - relegation threatened opponents who still sacked boss Slaven Bilic in the aftermath of taking that point.

"To be specific, it was after the game against West Bromwich," Guardiola said. "We could've won with two incredible chances at the end but after that game, I felt this is not the team I can recognise myself. I didn't like what I watched, I didn't like what I saw.

"We talked and we said, okay, we have to come back to our first principle. We had to reconstruct the team from that point. What we are as a team, how we had success in the past.

"We had to come back to our game, move the ball quicker, do more passes, stay in position, run less with the ball, do it together. We don't have a specific player to win games, we have to do it together.

"But above all that was the commitment of the players. They talked, they thought, okay, we have to do more and they did it."

The results have been startling, with City winning every one of their 15 subsequent matches - an all-time record for a top-flight English club.

In the 15 games preceding their ongoing streak, City won nine and drew five alongside the Spurs loss.

The arrival of Ruben Dias had already gone a long way to shoring up a defence humiliated during a 5-2 September loss to Leicester City, with City breached six times during those 15 matches. They have let in five during the winning run.

Their expected goals (xG) is actually up from 7.1 to eight, with 10 clean sheets in each batch of games.

It is up front where Guardiola's men have rediscovered their mojo despite the on-going absence of club record goalscorer Sergio Aguero.

City's 40 goals dwarf 25 from the prior 15 outings. Misses such as the ones from Ilkay Gundogan and Raheem Sterling that Guardiola referenced from the West Brom draw are also less of a factor.

During that segment earlier in the season, City were tracking below an xG of 27.7. With the likes of Premier League Player of the Month Gundogan (eight in 15 games), Sterling, Phil Foden (both six) and Gabriel Jesus (five) back in the goals, they are operating clearly above an xG of 32.9.

Tottenham's season is heading sharply in the other direction.

They were eight points better off than City after beating them, but their subsequent 13 Premier League matches read won four, drawn four, lost five.

Counting top division matches only from this period, City have outscored Spurs 33 to 15, having played once more, claiming 38 points to Tottenham's 16.

Guardiola's backline has been breached a mere three times since that last league loss and faced 92 shots at an xG against of 6.6. Mourinho's men have faced 183 attempts on goal and an xG against of 15.91 is a touch higher than their 13 conceded.

Once again, the tempestuous and thrilling back and forth that marked Guardiola and Mourinho's spells in charge of Barcelona and Real Madrid will not be repeated in England, as was the case when the Portuguese took up residence across the city at Manchester United.

For this reason, perhaps, Guardiola was comfortable speaking cordially about his old rival.

"I have a good relationship with him, we can agree or disagree but it's not a big problem," he said.

"His business is Tottenham, or before United, mine is City. We have to handle our team and backroom staff and we don't have time to know what about the other club and could not care less.

"The only concern is what we have to do tomorrow."

Related items

  • Norrie continues stunning season after reaching Indian Wells decider against Basilashvili Norrie continues stunning season after reaching Indian Wells decider against Basilashvili

    ameron Norrie continued his sensational year by reaching his sixth and most significant final for the season with a straight-sets win over Grigor Dimitrov in the Indian Wells Masters semi-finals on Saturday.

    The British 21st seed claimed his 46th win for the season, earning his sixth final appearance for the season, which is the equal most of any male player on tour, alongside Novak Djokovic.

    Norrie will play Georgian 29th seed Nicoloz Basilashvili who defeated local Taylor Fritz in straight sets to reach a Masters 1000 final for the first time.

     

    NORRIE TOPPLES TIRING DIMITROV

    Norrie will also be making his maiden Masters 1000 final appearance after a 6-2 6-4 victory over 23rd seed Dimitrov in one hour and 26 minutes.

    The 26-year-old Briton got ahead in both sets with an early break to set up the victory. Norrie moves ahead of Daniil Medvedev, Casper Ruud and Stefanos Tsitsipas and level with Djokovic for most final appearances this season.

    "I've been playing a lot of big matches this year, which has helped," Norrie said during his on-court interview. "I feel like I am used to the big moments and the big matches.

    "I'm feeling more and more comfortable and I feel like I am playing on my terms in key moments."

    Dimitrov, who beat top seed Daniil Medvedev in an epic fourth round comeback, appeared spent physically with 31 unforced errors compared to Norrie's 19, with the Briton only hitting 12 winners for the match.

    The triumph boosts Norrie's hopes of qualifying for the ATP Finals, with victory in the decider to see him move past Jannik Sinner into 10th position and within 125 points of the last position, currently occupied by Hubert Hurkacz.

     

    BASILASHVILI MAKES MAIDEN MASTERS 1000 FINAL

    Basilashvili overcame late nerves to secure his first-ever Masters 1000 final berth with victory over 31st seed Fritz in 7-6 (7-5) 6-3 in one hour and 41 minutes.

    The 29-year-old, who had never won a main draw match at Indian Wells prior to this year's event, had 26-21 winners for the match, stepping up in the key moments to claim his breakthrough spot in a decider.

    "It means a lot, especially at Indian Wells," Basilashvili said during his on-court interview. "People call this the fifth grand slam so it means a lot."

    The Georgian was uncompromising and committed throughout, staving off three Fritz set points in the first set, before getting the lead in a tiebreak. Basilashvili converted his first break point for the match to lead 4-2 in the second set, although he spurned three match points with missed forehands, before sealing victory.

    "For me, I'm first time experiencing semi-finals, finals and quarter-finals so I'm really tight," Basilashvili said. "It's natural but I try to get rid of it as much as I can. If I focus on my game and play, I can play good tennis."

  • Giroud savours return to goals as Milan fight back against Verona Giroud savours return to goals as Milan fight back against Verona

    Olivier Giroud was relieved to get back among the goals as Milan fought back to beat Hellas Verona 3-2 at San Siro on Saturday.

    The Rossoneri looked to be heading for a first defeat in 30 home Serie A meetings with Verona when Gianluca Caprari and Antonin Barak put them 2-0 up before half-time.

    Giroud headed in just before the hour mark to spark Milan's revival, with Franck Kessie levelling the scores from the penalty spot before a late decisive own goal from Koray Gunter.

    The result put Stefano Pioli's men top of the table ahead of Napoli's clash with Torino on Sunday.

    In scoring his third goal in his first two Serie A home games, Giroud matched a feat only previous reached by Oliver Bierhoff, Alexandre Pato, Mario Balotelli and Carlos Bacca since 1994-95.

    The former Arsenal and Chelsea striker, who had missed four of Milan's previous five games, admitted it had been a long time coming to be back on the scoresheet.

    "I've waited a long time for this moment. I missed the competition," Giroud, who last scored in the win over Cagliari in August, told DAZN.

    "In the first half, we didn't do well but the reaction was important. I don't feel 100 per cent yet but I am growing and I feel more free.

    "This victory is a joy. I can't wait to go and celebrate with my team-mates. In the first half, there was a lack of nastiness and quality. We could only do better in the second half, and that's what we did."

    Pioli was left delighted with the endeavour shown by his side in the second half as they now prepare for a key Champions League group game with Porto on Tuesday.

    "My team believe in what they do and put their soul into everything," he told DAZN.

    "We tried to play from the back but they were very aggressive in the first half. They took away our space and often left us with just the long ball. We were not very dynamic and we suffered.

    "The best thing about this group is to see everyone involved. The credit doesn't go to me, but it's the air we breathe. The boys put individuality aside to put themselves at the service of the team.

    "We should enjoy this game but prepare for Porto. We've recovered some players and we've lost some. The more rotations there are, the better we can do." 

  • Milan 3-2 Hellas Verona: Gunter own goal decisive as Rossoneri roar back Milan 3-2 Hellas Verona: Gunter own goal decisive as Rossoneri roar back

    Milan roared back from 2-0 down to beat Hellas Verona 3-2 on Saturday and claim top spot in the Serie A table.

    Unbeaten in their opening seven league games of the season, the Rossoneri were 2-0 down at the break against a side previously without an away win against them in 29 attempts.

    Gianluca Caprari and a penalty from Antonin Barak had Verona heading for an unlikely three points before the home side produced a second-half turnaround.

    After Olivier Giroud had headed home a third goal in three league games, Franck Kessie equalised from the penalty spot before Koray Gunter's own goal settled a gripping contest.

    Milan had not conceded two first-half goals in Serie A since last November – against these opponents – but they paid the price for a lifeless start to the contest.

    Ciprian Tatarusanu, in for the injured Mike Maignan, was powerless to keep out Caprari's precise finish seven minutes in after Miguel Veloso had kept Verona's attack alive.

    The lead was doubled 17 minutes later, Barak putting his penalty just out of Tatarusanu's reach after Alessio Romagnoli was judged to have fouled Nikola Kalinic as the former Milan forward darted in front of him to meet a cross.

    This Milan is a resilient side, though – they have only twice taken more points after the first eight matches of the season in the three-point era than they had before this game – and they got a lifeline just before the hour when Giroud nodded in Rafael Leao's expert cross from the left.

    A swift passing move saw Leao backheel the ball to Samu Castillejo, who was caught from behind by Marco Faraoni, allowing Kessie to dispatch a confident penalty and level the scores with 15 minutes left.

    Stefano Pioli introduced Zlatan Ibrahimovic off the bench, and the veteran striker may well have had a tap-in had Gunter not scuffed an attempted clearance beneath the legs of goalkeeper Lorenzo Montipo to give Milan the lead.


    What does it mean? Milan go top – and stay unbeaten

    Milan's comeback saw them leapfrog Napoli, who play Torino on Sunday, and go top of the table by a single point.

    With Inter having lost 3-1 at Lazio earlier, Pioli will be doubly pleased with the manner of their second-half performance as they capitalised on their rivals' first loss of the season.

    Verona are 13th, with eight points from eight games.

    Olivier takes centre stage

    Giroud has made a career out of being a penalty-box menace and it was no surprise to see him drag Milan back into the contest.

    He is the fifth Rossonero since 1994-95 to score three goals in his first two Serie A home games, after Oliver Bierhoff, Alexandre Pato, Mario Balotelli and Carlos Bacca.

    Maldini goes missing

    Daniel Maldini completed just seven passes before being hooked at half-time as Pioli rang the changes to good effect.

    By contrast, replacement Rade Krunic completed twice as many in the opposition half alone while creating four goalscoring chances.

    What's next?

    Milan head to Porto in the Champions League on Tuesday before facing Bologna away on October 23.

© 2020 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.