Det vankas stormatch i England på nyårsafton, Manchester City kommer på besök på Anfield och det är såklart oerhört viktiga poäng som står på spel. Det är ett stjärnspäckat lag som kommer till Liverpool, men kanske har man sin största stjärna på bänken i Pep Guardiola. Vi är halvvägs in i den gamle Barcelona-tränarens första säsong i England och en som följt den noga är Richard Burns(@RichardTheBurns), bland annat en av rösterna i Blue Moon Podcast och i EPL Round table. Här kan ni se vad han hade att berätta om vad som hänt hittills:
1. Tell us about the season so far, are you satisfied with the amount of points you have gained and the way you have played?
This is a slightly difficult question to answer. I am very happy with what Guardiola is doing and there have been flashes that the players are grasping his ideas and reacting well to his coaching and tactics. The first ten games were quite magnificent, but it has become apparent since then that our defensive players are simply not good enough to do exactly what Pep wants. Otamendi and Kolarov are too slow to effectively play the high defensive line consistently well. The only defender we have that is really in Pep’s mould is John Stones, but he’s a step ahead of every defender which is leading to some unfortunate mix-ups that Stones then gets blamed for by the press and supporters who aren’t paying attention. In terms of points…well you’ve never want to be seven points off top spot at Christmas and there have been some daft dropped points at home. So, overall I’m satisfied with how things are going but the rebuilding job Guardiola has is significant.
2. What has changed under Guardiola? Positives/Negatives?
The negative is the defence. Everything Guardiola tries to do requires a solid defence and we just do not have that at the moment. As I said earlier, we have players that are too slow or don’t read the game well enough to play a high line. Once they get exposed – like against Chelsea and Leicester – they leave Premier League strikers running clear at goal. However, the positives are that we are tactically shrewd. Under Pellegrini, we were dull and never had a second plan; he was incapable of tinkering during a game to tip things in our favour, but Pep is more adept at that. Take the Arsenal game for instance, at half-time it was as simple as shifting Sterling into a slightly more central position, and suddenly Arsenal couldn’t cope. He see’s the game and the bigger picture exceptionally, so it rarely feels like we’re out of a game.
3. Claudio Bravo hade a tough start at City, how has he played the last months?
Well, he’s been OK and that’s about it. Bravo was brought in to be better with his feet than Joe Hart and, unquestionably, he is. So in that respect, the decision to replace Hart is justified, because it’s achieved what the manager wanted. There was also an unhelpful stat doing the rounds recently that Bravo had conceded five out six shots taken at him, but the fact is that those shots were all from positions where the percentage chance of scoring was massively in favour of the attacking player. Again, that all came from Kolarov and Otamendi not reading the game, pushing up and diving in and leaving players like Eden Hazard and Jamie Vardy running clear at goal. You can’t blame Bravo for that, no matter how you paint the picture. All that said, we’ve seen no evidence so far that Bravo is a better shot-stopper than Hart and regardless of how much we buy into Guardiola’s ideas, the fans and the press will always judge Bravo on that criteria.
4. Which players has benefited most from Guardiola’s arrival?
Raheem Sterling. Everybody was ready to write him off after a difficult first season in Manchester and a poor Euro 2016, where he was scapegoated and vilified by a malicious tabloid press, despite only being as bad as the rest of the embarrassing England team. Pellegrini coached all of Sterling’s qualities out of him, demanding that a player whose main strengths are his pace, skill, dynamism and direct play adhered instead to a slow, two-or-three touch passing game. He was always going to struggle, and subsequently his confidence was shattered (cheers, Manuel). Pep has re-invigorated Sterling to the point that the team is now unimaginable without him. He’s playing his natural game again. Liverpool fans may remember a Sterling who was indecisive in the final third or who couldn’t finish his dinner, but all that’s changing. He is fearless in the box, his shooting still needs some work but he makes decisions and commits to them now, which is a huge step forward. Pep is doing a great job with him and he finally looks like he’s going to fulfil his enormous potential. Crucially, a sceptical fanbase is beginning to fall in love with him.
5. Do you think there will be any new players coming in during the january window? Where do you need strenghtening?
We know we’ve got Gabriel Jesus coming in. The Brazilian was signed in the summer but allowed to stay with Palmeiras to complete their season. He’s just won the league with them and joins us on January 2nd. Other than that, the defence needs an overhaul. We’ve been heavily linked with Virgil Van Dijk but I can’t see that happening in the winter. We also need at least two new fullbacks but City typically don’t do much business in January and last time they did – when Wilfried Bony came in – it was a disaster. Pep may surprise us, but I fully expect business to be saved until the summer and for it be focussed on re-structuring the back line.
6. What are your thoughts on Liverpool this season?
They’ve been very impressive. Klopp is an extremely impressive coach and it shows in how well you’re playing. Mane has been a great signing and the improve Adam Lallana has been incredible. I love watching Liverpool and it helps that, as a neutral, when you turn on the TV to watch them you’re unlikely to see a boring game. Like City, you know that there is always a possibility of a calamity (the 4-3 defeat at Bournemouth would be Exhibit A here). However, I don’t expect that to last forever and I think Klopp will make your boys a force for years to come. Unless Chelsea completely blow the rest of the league out of the water, I fully expect Liverpool to be in the title reckoning until the end