Manchester City scraped through a 2-1 win over Sunderland on the opening day of the Premier League to hand Pep Guardiola a victory on his first game in charge.
It was far from a convincing victory from Manchester City. Guardiola’s men never quite looked in control of proceedings and almost paid a heavy price for a slack performance at the Etihad Stadium. Sergio Aguero opened the scoring through a penalty in the fourth minute and it looked like City would sail through to pick up all three points. However, Sunderland talisman Jermaine Defoe decided to play spoilsport as he scored a crucial equaliser mid-way into the second half to bring things back on level terms.
Black Cats defender Paddy McNair came on as a substitute to salvage a late draw for his side, but ended up slotting the ball into his own net to give Manchester City an undeserving victory on the day.
Here are three talking points from the grueling encounter:
Pep Guardiola receives a reality check about life in England’s top tier
It was by far a superior performance from Pep Guardiola and his Manchester City side. The flaws were evident from the lineup he named. Probably the most astonishing decision taken by the Spaniard was the inclusion of Willy Caballero over the club’s long-serving number one Joe Hart. Alexander Kolarov, a left-back by trade, was deployed as a centre-half and did not look comfortable throughout the game.
City played like a typical Guardiola team, but did not look threatening for most quarters of the game. As many expected, they dictated the play, averaging 77 per cent possession, but lacked the cutting edge needed to take the initiative in the game. A number of backward and sideways passes were played, which was probably uncharacteristic of the way the City fans have known their side to play.
Despite picking up maximum points from Saturday’s encounter, it wasn’t the performance many expected. It was a mundane and drab display from the City side, and the general consensus was that a draw would have been the possible result. With all due to respect to Sunderland, a similar performance from Guardiola could see them pay the price. It may not too long that the Spanish tactician is forced to bow to the treacherous and gruesome conditions England’s top-tier has to offer. Changing his style of play could benefit his side, but failure to do so could see the beginning of the end of City’s domination.
A new goalkeeper is the need of the hour for Manchester City
In all fairness to Caballero, the second-choice goalkeeper at City has never quite lived up to his credentials at the Etihad Stadium. He has often been scrutinized for his positioning and handling of the ball. The Argentine stopper is rarely seen marshaling his back-line and seems to have little to no cohesion with his teammates.
While he could not be completely blamed for Defoe’s goal, there were a couple of occasions in the Sunderland game where he looked off guard. He was thoroughly beaten during a corner in the second half and was lucky to see nothing come off the attempt. He impressed in a rather unfamiliar sweeper-keeper role, but his presence inside the 18-yard area was far from convincing.
City’s number one Joe Hart looked like a sorry figure on the substitute bench. However, it was about time that a manager had the audacity to drop one of the club’s most coveted superstars. The England international had a highly disappointing 2015/16 season and even in the recently concluded European Champions, he did very little to justify himself as the nation’s best stopper. He was seen making a number of errors, particularly in the game against Iceland, and it looks like Guardiola is fairly unconvinced about his ability as a permanent goalkeeping option for his side.
Barcelona’s Claudio Bravo has been chalked out as a potential replacement, and given the Costa Rican’s impressive showing with the Catalan outfit, he would certainly add a lot of stability to City’s back line.
David Moyes’ topsy-turvy afternoon
Despite it being a game of 22 players on the field, it was the managers off the field who grabbed the spotlight. It was a roller coaster of a game for the former Manchester United manager David Moyes. Despite being mark underdogs going into the contest, his side showed plenty of promise as the game progressed.
Sunderland were outrun by City in the first half and everybody expected more of the same once the second period began. However, Moyes’ side looked to play with an added zest and spark and began closing down a raggedy looking Manchester City defence. They were eventually rewarded for their pressing game as Jermaine Defoe scored a goal off a wonderful through ball played by former City player Jack Rodwell.
With only seven minutes of regulation time left toplay, Moyes withdrew his goal scorer Defoe and brought in new signing Paddy McNair to help preserve a vital point earned from the Etihad. However, it wasn’t the best of decisions made by the Scottish as McNair hit the ball past his own goalkeeper Vito Mannone to hand the lead back to the opposition.
It’s still early days but Moyes needs to get his substitutions right if he is ensure Sunderland’s safety this season.