New Man City boss tears up English tradition as his Blue revolution gets under way with a narrow win over Sunderland

 

Centre backs who stand by the corner flags, full backs who transform into central midfielders, and a goalkeeper expected to double as a sweeper.

Welcome to the crazy, creative, inside-out world of Pep Guardiola.

We have been hearing for months, often from his admiring ex-players, how the canny Catalan will change the face of English football forever.

Like the first few brush strokes of a Rembrandt, at times it was difficult to see how the new Manchester City manager is fashioning a masterpiece.

The Blues utterly bossed possession – having 77 per cent of the ball – but they did not do a lot with it in front of goal.

How much of that was down to players still trying to grasp those bold new tactics, and how much down to the fact that Sergio Aguero, David Silva, and Kevin De Bruyne are still shaking off the rust of the English summer, was hard to say.

 

Guardiola could have been forgiven for sticking with the tried and trusted formula of his City predecessors, by playing a conventional 4-2-3-1 and getting a couple of results under his belt.

But the moment we saw left back Gael Clichy and right back Bacary Sagna virtually alongside each other in the centre circle, we knew we were in a whole new world.

It is not new to Guardiola of course. He often had Bayern Munich full backs Philipp Lahm and David Alaba join the fun in the middle, rather than be conventional, touchline-hugging full backs.

Manuel Pellegrini used to dismiss talk of 4-4-2, 4-3-3 and so on as “telephone numbers” – you would need a whole directory to log Pep’s tactical approach.

It had the press box anoraks in a lather. It looked like 4-1-4-1 to start, with Fernandinho dropping in to the centre of defence whenever debutant John Stones and his partner Aleks Kolarov drifted out to the full back positions to receive the ball.

 

Then when City had the ball, Sagna and Clichy reinforced midfield, Fernandinho operated behind them and it became a 3-2-4-1.

Don’t get used to it. City will set up differently in Bucharest on Tuesday night when they face Steaua in a Champions League play-off.

As for Pep’s much-vaunted reputation for improving individuals, it looks like Raheem Stering is the first beneficiary. From being the shattered scapegoat of England’s Euro 2016 flop, he turned into a streak of Blue lightning, the ball tied to his bootlaces, turning Patrick van Aanholt to draw the early penalty.

guero tucked it away to get the Guardiola era off to a great start, although Jermain Defoe took advantage of the makeshift central defence to poke home an equaliser.

Sub Jesus Navas, not for the first time in his Blues career, turned the game back City’s way with a burst to the by-line and a cross which hit the unfortunate ex-United man Paddy McNair for an untidy winning goal.

Pep’s City masterpiece is under way. Expect some false brush strokes along the way, and a bit of torn canvas.

But the process is going to be utterly fascinating.

 

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