Manchester City hosted David Moyes’ Sunderland for the first game of the Pep Guardiola era. A pacey run from Sterling earned a penalty, which Sergio Aguero slotted home. That was followed by an extended period of pressure from City sprinkled with a few good chances for Jermain Defoe and co., who should have equalized from close range shortly before halftime.
Manchester City pressed on for more goals in what turned out to be a largely uneventful second half, till Defoe tore up the script and scored the equalizer for Sunderland, only for new boy Paddy McNair to concede and own goal at the death and let City secure all three points.
Here are the five biggest talking points from the opening weekend of the Premier League
#1 Shock exit on the cards for Joe Hart?
It seemed Pep Guardiola planned to give his new club and their fans a treat in return for the wonderful welcome and ceremony they hosted prior to their first game of the season. An incredible 4-1-4-1 formation featured the star cast of Raheem Sterling, David Silva, Kevin de Bruyne, Nolito and Sergio Aguero made for an exciting day on the field. And with the world’s second-most expensive defender thrown in for good measure, the fans were brimming with excitement.
However, the biggest shocker apart from Alexander Kolarov playing in central defence turned out to be between the sticks. After a terrible summer at the Euros, a pre-season full of exit-rumours and public taunts by arguably the world’s best manager, Joe Hart found himself benched to Willy Caballero. The only time that had happened so far in his career was in case of injury or the League Cup.
Caballero’s near disastrous clearance straight to a Sunderland player at the first application of pressure only reconfirmed that he is seen as a backup, though he did sweep up whenever Defoe threatened to catch the City defence out. However, Defoe did manage to get the last laugh, and expect Guardiola to splash the cash on an elite sweeper-keeper. Marc-Andre Ter-Stegen of Barcelona seems the most likely candidate.
#2 Can Moyes lead Sunderland to something better than relegation run-ins?
The Chosen One is back. In the midst of this mélange of elite managers, it is easy to forget there is great quality in the managers of the lesser lights of the League. The likes of Aitor Karanka, Walter Mazzari, Marc Hughes and David Moyes in the Premier League, in addition to two Champions League winning managers plying their trade in the second-tier of English football, the Championship, surely must be enough to confirm the status of England as the most challenging place in world football.
Losing battle-hardened and relegation run-in expert Sam Allardyce to the FA just a few weeks before the new season would have been a tough pill for Sunderland, but they moved quickly to establish Moyes as his successor. Moyes had a great period with Everton, before lackluster spells with Manchester United and Real Sociedad.
He kept his team in the game despite conceding early, and after 60 minutes brought on Adnan Januzaj and Wahbi Khazri to seek an equalizer, and was duly rewarded with one. As City brought on an extra attacker in search of a winner, he wisely brought on an extra defender to try and shut out the game. Unfortunately, the substitute conceded an own goal and Sunderland left with no points.
He has built on the team he has inherited and has great young talent in Joel Asoro, Lynden Gooch, Paddy McNair, Donald Love and Adnan Januzaj. A decent defence comprising the likes of Jan Kirchoff, Lamine Kone, Younes Kaboul and Patrick van Aanholt is coupled with a body of Premier League experience in the form of Jermain Defoe, Fabio Borini, John O’Shea and Lee Cattermole. The foundations are in place and Moyes should steer Sunderland to better things for the sake of the club, fans and his career.
#3 The transfer window is far from over for both these teams
Jermain Defoe is that magical, rare commodity of a Premier League proven goal-scorer that sides at the top, bottom and indeed the middle of the table crave for. He should be nothing less than a demi-god in the North East, scoring bags of goals at the back end of last season to keep the Black Cats up at the expense of their bitter rivals Newcastle, who descended into the Championship.
In this game, he gave Sunderland a glimmer of hope as he briefly equalized for the Black Cats. However, soon to turn 34, Defoe is knocking on and is frequently sidelined by injuries. Sunderland have a decent squad as mentioned earlier, but the bane of all basement boy teams is that for all their grit and effort in defending, they do not find the back of the net at the other end enough to keep them up. David Moyes needs to make a move for a striker before the window closes.
The expectation of total dominance has followed Pep Guardiola, and in addition to the attack starting the match today, City have the likes of Leroy Sane, Kelechi Iheanacho, Wilfried Bony, Samir Nasri, Jesus Navas and Gabriel Jesus to ensure that there is more than enough quality in attack to mount a challenge for trophies in the three major competitions if not the League Cup as well.
Ilkay Gundogan is expected to make the role of a midfield pivot his own, and there are the likes of Fabian Delph, Yaya Toure, Fernando and Fernandinho to man that part of the pitch. However, the defence puzzle is still not solved despite the £47.5 million acquisition of John Stones, and we can expect him to sign maybe a versatile young fullback and likely a new sweeper-keeper.
#4 Can world class wingers reduce the burden on Aguero’s shoulders?
Pep Guardiola knows exactly what it takes to make and manage elite teams, and if Manchester City are to become a force at par with the likes of Real Madrid and Barcelona, they have to shift from their heavy dependence on star man Sergio Aguero. The Argentine was lively all day and opened this season’s account in just 3 minutes by slotting home a penalty.
City already had a bevy of accomplished wide men in the form of 49 million pound teenager Raheem Sterling, Kevin de Bruyne, David Silva, Jesus Navas and Samir Nasri. To add to this, Pep has signed Leroy Sane, Nolito, Gabriel Jesus and Marlos Moreno (he was loaned out as soon as he was signed, though). Sterling and Nolito were a constant threat and they beat the Sunderland fullbacks with ease. Sterling has put a horrendous Euro campaign and has had a great pre-season, and he also earned the penalty today.
Expect Manchester City’s insane attack to run the show in the upcoming season under the orchestration of the genius Pep Guardiola. Manchester City seem to finally have others who can drag them over the line if Aguero is injured or has a poor game.
#5 Critical season for many youngsters
Raheem Sterling has improved as gleaned from early signs this season but still has a long way to go to justify his price tag. Another youngster who must be feeling the weight of his transfer fee is none other than John Stones who made an uneventful debut for Manchester City. He is the young ball-playing defender that Guardiola craved, and expect him to have a breakout season under the tutelage of a fine manager.
Kelechi Iheanacho missed two chances shortly after being brought on and he also has to put in a mammoth effort to stay relevant in this squad of superstars and to ably fill up for Aguero.
On the other side, Manchester United ‘rejects’ Donald Love, Adnan Januzaj and Paddy McNair face the most important season of their careers. Donald Love had a tough debut on the right wing, and Paddy McNair, unfortunately, conceded the decisive own goal after coming on from the bench.
Adnan Januzaj was similarly unable to prevent his side from slipping to a defeat against Manchester City, and these three must really step up their game if they harbour dreams of returning to Old Trafford as established stars.