Manchester City cruised past Hull City on a sunshine-filled Saturday afternoon at the Etihad Stadium.
Resplendent in the seasonal hue of early Spring, Manchester’s finest football stadium played host to a comfortable performance from Pep Guardiola’s men, who ran out 3-1 winners. In truth, it could have been even better, but more on that later.
With plenty of attacking threat and a defensive performance that did a good job of containing the visitor’s counter-attacks, the Blues have plenty of reason to be happy with their display. The positives shone through in the end, though there is one negative that can’t be overlooked. Let’s deal with the good stuff first.
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Sergio Agüero and Guardiola’s ideas
Everything seems to have gone a little bit quiet on the Pep-and-Kun-don’t-get-on-so-Agüero’s-off-in-the-summer front, doesn’t it? It’s funny how a run of 10 goals in 10 games makes everybody forget about the talk of unhappiness, tense relationships and an imminent parting of ways.
For Agüero’s part, he has really shown signs in recent weeks of delivering exactly what his manager is asking for. His quality has never been in doubt but his ability to adapt his game has been. His desire to do the same was also not so obvious for a while. Not anymore, though. Since the injury to Gabriel Jesus granted the Argentine an extended run in the team with little threat of losing his place again, he’s really stepped up to the mark. His pressing game is in keeping with the rest of the team and it’s creating space and chances for his teammates. He’s grabbing less headlines than he might be used to, but he keeps sticking the ball in the net and, in simple terms, he’s working his backside off. Guardiola is turning him into the striker he wants him to be and everybody is reaping the rewards.
As an aside, Agüero’s improvement should serve as a reminder to the more cynical amongst the City support – as well as those in the media – who question Guardiola. It seems that one of the best coaches in the world has a pretty decent idea of what he’s doing afterall. It didn’t make sense to many people to try and change the game of City’s talisman, to alter the natural game of one of the world’s leading strikers. The manager, though, knows what he needs from his team and it’s individuals. He’s improving a player that appeared to have hit his maximum level. Why would we not trust him to do the same across the board? It’s taking time, but how could anybody reasonably have expected anything else?
City’s second goal came about after every single player had touched the ball in the build up. It was finished as a result of Raheem Sterling then taking on a couple of men in the box with a burst of pace and getting the ball to a lethal finisher in the box in the shape of Agüero, who duly dispatched it. It was just about as Guardiola as it gets and the manager basically said as much after the game. Things are clicking into place and it’s exciting.
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Sadly here’s where we have to do a quick negative. It’s one that’s been done to death over the season, but it keeps being relevant. After seven Premier League games out of the side, the Chilean was re-introduced into the team. His passing was good and composed and it did everything Guardiola wants.
The problem, though, is that when Hull had their one shot on target, coming in the 85th minute, Bravo made a mess of it. Andrea Ranocchia meekly knocked the ball towards goal and could not have expected it to end up in the net. But that’s exactly where it went. If you wanted to be kind to the ‘keeper, you could point out that he was partially unsighted by John Stones presence in front of him. If you were calling it straight, though, you’d say that his body wasn’t set properly and his reactions were poor. Bravo is an unusual problem in that he has become a goalkeeper who doesn’t save shots. No matter how stubborn Guardiola can be, it’s hard to imagine Bravo still being City’s issue next term.
The midfield man has been deprived of minutes this season, largely due to serious misfortune with injuries. His start at Chelsea on Wednesday was his first in the league in this campaign and he obviously impressed Guardiola enough to be afforded another go, as he was given another start in this match.
He did an excellent job in the centre, breaking up play and distributing the ball with composure and intelligence. He had the lot. He even grabbed himself a rare goal with a bullet shot that flew past the goalkeeper. Given that he spoke this week of his resolute desire to stay at City in the summer and continue working with “…the best management team in the world,” he’s not done his chances any harm at all. Indeed, Guardiola himself said during the week that Delph’s efforts at Stamford Bridge had proved he’d been wrong to overlook him so much. It’s hard to think of greater praise than Guardiola saying he’s made a mistake.
This victory strengthens City’s claims for a top four place, but nothing is assured at this point. The performance was encouraging and once again gave us plenty of signs that things are moving in the right, Guardiola-lead direction. Individuals are stepping up and the team are benefiting greatly as a result. Given that the title-chances have completely evaporated, we could hardly ask for more now.