MARTIN SAMUEL: Manchester City were in a different class to Leicester City but if Pep Guardiola adds Erling Haaland to his incredibly slick outfit… they will become truly FRIGHTENING
- Manchester City were in a different class in their 2-0 win over Leicester City
- But Pep Guardiola is already planning for how to be even better next season
- It is why Mino Raiola is in town to talk about his most prized asset Erling Haaland
- The thought of Haaland feeding off City’s midfield talent is truly frightening
There were the five minutes when Manchester City had 100 per cent possession; the 45 minutes in which Leicester managed a single touch inside the opposing box. There were the 53 passes Manchester City made without Leicester touching the ball.
And yet, what about next year? Yes, this was all fine and dandy, but do not imagine for one second that City are not already contemplating the new season.
The old lie is one game at a time, only focusing on the next match, Tuesday’s opponent, the myth that a football club lives entirely in the present, like a newborn. The reality is that plans are already in place. Options one, two and three discussed.
Manchester City were in a different class to Leicester in their 2-0 win on Saturday evening
But it took them close to an hour to score – an issue that Pep Guardiola will be keen to address
That is why Mino Raiola is on his European tour, hawking his prized possession Erling Haaland, and why Manchester City will travel to him if his presence in their locality is not considered too gauche.
And what might Guardiola take, additionally, from this latest flawless display by his team? That, next season, City will have to present something fresh.
They were in a different class to Leicester, yet took close on an hour to score. All those incredible numbers, the possession, the consecutive passes, the almost total subjugation of a team who will probably qualify for the Champions League were from the first half, which ended goalless only after a Jamie Vardy goal had been ruled offside in the final minute.
‘All this useless beauty,’ as Elvis Costello sang. Can you believe there are people who find Manchester City’s football boring, with its precision and pursuit of perfection? Guardiola won’t care about that; but he will care, eventually, that smart coaches like Brendan Rodgers and Carlo Ancelotti are finding ways to stifle his team.
It took Manchester City until the 84th minute to score at Everton in the FA Cup, Fulham reached half-time with the game goalless, so did Leicester.
City emerged victorious each time — and were outstanding in this most recent outing — but their last three domestic fixtures suggest it is being made harder for them. Post-match on Saturday, Guardiola delivered a eulogy to the patience his team showed.
Agent Mino Raiola is in town to talk to Manchester City about his prized asset Erling Haaland
‘Leicester defend deep and hard, so well, so strong, and we must be patient, so patient,’ he said.
‘Don’t concede on the counter-attack, don’t give them chances. They didn’t create much, but we are not going to win inside 10 minutes.
‘They are patient, to make us impatient. In our first game with them this season (a 5-2 defeat), that was our big mistake. And we had no strikers in that game. Today we were calmer.’
MATCH FACTS AND PLAYER RATINGS
Leicester City (3-4-2-1): Schmeichel 6.5; Amartey 6, Evans 7, Fofana 7; Albrighton 6 (Ricardo Pereira 71, 5), Ndidi 6 (Mendy 83), Tielemans 7, Castagne 6; Perez 5; Iheanacho 5 (Maddison 72, 5), Vardy 5.5
Subs not used: Ward, Choudhury, Praet, Thomas, Daley-Campbell, Suengchitthawon
Booked: Ndidi, Amartey
Manager: Brendan Rodgers 6
Manchester City (4-2-3-1): Ederson 6.5; Walker 8, Dias 8, Laporte 7.5, Mendy 8; Fernandinho 8, Rodri 7.5; Mahrez 7 (Torres 79), De Bruyne 9 (Foden 88), Jesus 8; Aguero 6 (Sterling 63, 7)
Subs not used: Stones, Ake, Gundogan, Bernardo Silva, Cancelo, Carson
Booked: Ederson, Fernandinho, Rodri
Goals: Mendy 58, Jesus 74
Manager: Pep Guardiola 8
Referee: Anthony Taylor 6
And what might circumvent this need for so much patience? A world-class, match-winning goalscorer of the type City had when Sergio Aguero was at his peak, perhaps?
So when Guardiola plays down the club’s interest in Haaland, for financial or political reasons, do not believe it.
Yes, there will be a price that is considered too rich even for Emirati pockets, just as there was for Paul Pogba, or Alexis Sanchez, or Fred. Yet that is to be negotiated.
What is plain is Haaland — or similar — is precisely what City need, and that Aguero is making way for his recruitment. If those 53 passes, those five minutes of 100 per cent possession, climax in a goal the pressure is off much sooner.
Tottenham led the table mid-season because Harry Kane, supported by Son Heung-min, made the difference in so many matches. So it is one of the greatest achievements of Guardiola’s career that he has set up such a commanding lead without similar weapons.
Manchester City’s leading goalscorer, Ilkay Gundogan, has been outscored by individuals at Liverpool, Tottenham, Manchester United, Leeds and Everton this season.
Gabriel Jesus, City’s main striker, is also overtaken by counterparts at Leicester, Arsenal, Aston Villa, Newcastle, West Ham and Crystal Palace. Guardiola does not want to show City’s hand to Raiola or Dortmund, but the evidence is there on the pitch.
The way City stay fresh next season is to arrive with a match-winner again. That would cut some very large corners.
On Tuesday, Haaland comes to Manchester, but not for a guided tour. He will be in the Borussia Dortmund team who face City in the Champions League quarter-final first leg.
Dortmund lost to Eintracht Frankfurt on Saturday, and are seven points outside the top four. It is another reason why Haaland’s departure is discussed in terms of when, not if.
Yet that does not afford room for complacency. Dortmund won their Champions League group and beat European experts Sevilla in the first knockout stage.
Borussia Dortmund lost to Eintracht Frankfurt, leaving them and Haaland way off the top four
‘If one person in Manchester knows Borussia Dortmund, it’s me,’ said Guardiola, three years with Bayern Munich. ‘If I look, I will not find one single player there without quality.
‘They spend a lot of money on young players, spend a lot of money with agents to bring them there, to have incredible quality. Incredible. This has not been their season but for one game, two games, they can do anything.
‘Sevilla won three Europa Leagues in a row, then won the Europa League again. They know exactly how to play two legs — and Dortmund beat them. Dortmund’s quality is not just Haaland, but Jadon Sancho, Marco Reus, Mats Hummels, Thorgan Hazard, Emre Can, who can play in seven, eight, nine positions, big holding midfielders, and when they run they kill you.’
It is Haaland who will have all eyes on him, however. At this stage of his career every game is an audition of sorts but here, before Guardiola, is a chance to show the difference he could make to a great team. Imagine him on the end of the pass Kevin De Bruyne played that led to Jesus’s goal; imagine him feeding off City’s midfield of all the talents.
Just imagine Haaland playing in front of Phil Foden (left) and Kevin de Bruyne (right)
Guardiola started without top scorer Gundogan at Leicester and only introduced Raheem Sterling for the final 27 minutes. ‘FIFA and UEFA kill the players,’ he explained.
‘We haven’t had a midweek off since the start, not even one. No player can sustain this, not just physically, but mentally. It is impossible. If you don’t rotate you cannot be where we are now.’
With so much room at the top, by his own admission he can do this. Next year, it will be different. Liverpool’s injury crisis will be over, Thomas Tuchel will have further shaped his vision at Chelsea, who knows where Kane might be? Manchester City will need more than patience. They know what they need. Everyone does. It is just a question of how they get him.
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