Manchester City were in scintillating form as they ran out 5-0 winners away at Steaua Bucharest in Tuesday night’s UEFA Champions League qualifier first leg.
Here’s James Cunliffe with four observations from the performance.
This article originally appeared as a post on James’ blog MCFC-ESQUE
1. The Silva of old is back
A few years ago David Silva was undoubtedly the Premier League’s most influential creator but with injuries niggling his progression, these past two seasons the Spaniard hasn’t been as magic. After Kevin de Bruyne arrived last summer, it looked certain that Silva had been replaced and in all honesty, he was forgotten about.
I don’t think many expected the 30-year-old to be a mainstay in Guardiola’s team this season but Silva looks more accustomed to the new system than anyone else. Fullbacks rotating inside to central-midfield frees up so much space for the City front five and, as mentioned on Sky’s Monday Night Football, Silva is benefiting greatly from this.
Opposing players are dragged away from the deadly number 10, leaving him plenty of room to operate in the final third. He looks to have already struck up a good relationship on the pitch with fellow Spaniard Nolito and at the moment is one of City’s top performers. It’s good to be reminded of ‘El Mago’s’ genius and so may it continue.
2. Men vs Boys
An away trip to past European Cup winners and the most decorated Romanian club in history at a 55,000 capacity stadium filled with solely 1% of City fans is expected to be somewhat tricky. However, Steaua threw way too many men forward and left a disjointed defence in panic mode – it was actually quite shocking to see how easily the 26-time Romanian Liga 1 champions were outclassed.
Steaua refused to learn from their mistakes and constantly granted some of the world’s best players acres of space in attack. From first to last minute, Laurențiu Reghecampf ordered his men to attack in numbers with complete disregard to how punishing it was when City hounded his defense. It was practically Vaas Montenegro’s definition of insanity translated from FarCry3 to footballing terms.
The tie is all but over and the underdogs didn’t even give themselves any chance of dragging it out into the second-leg. I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s less than a handful of Romanian fans at the Etihad next Wednesday.
3. Still room for Kolarov
If City fans had any control over ins-and-outs at the club over the recent seasons then Aleksandar Kolarov would have packed his bags long ago. He’s a liability; his poor positional sense and lack of pace makes him far from a crowd-favourite. But this is what separates the best manager in the world from the rest of us, Pep sees something in the Serbian.
“I think Kolarov had one of the best performances I have seen in a central defender. He won all the long balls, he was quality with passes and he was strong. Kolarov not just today but in the last few games played really well.” – Guardiola reflecting on Kolarov’s performance during the Sunderland win.
Like many others at City, Kolarov has been revitalized in the first few weeks of Guardiola’s impact in Manchester. In fairness, Kolarov had always been confident and able on the ball – getting the best out of him is something our talented gaffer is very capable of.
4. City getting to grips with the new system
Currently, I’d describe City as a ‘work in progress’; the ideas are there but the execution is in training. Last night Pep’s side already looked like they had improved from Saturday – their passing was quicker and crisper. It’s important we are able to manipulate the game into one-on-one situations between our wingers and their defenders, it was evident this occurred more yesterday with the amount of joy Nolito and Raheem Sterling had down the sides.
When City meaningfully fizzed the ball about the final third, Steaua couldn’t contain them. The fourth goal, Sergio Agüero’s second, was the epitome of Pep’s influence in one-touch passing and fast movement. Nolito and Agüero toyed with the Steaua defenders in a quick transition on the edge of the box before the Argentine finished the move with a good finish.
Transition does need to be improved though. There’s been glimpses of slow transition from attack to defence and I’m concerned about getting caught from counter-attacks. However, I’m confident the team will eventually get it right and even though City are far from being the finished product, we are twice as exciting to watch as we ever have been.
Written by James Cunliffe
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