Preview: Pep out to crack the Premier League after trophyless debut
By Pete Hall
LONDON (Reuters) - Last season represented a first trophyless campaign for Pep Guardiola as his Manchester City side fell away after a ferocious start, prompting questions about whether the all-conquering Catalan deserved his lofty reputation.
From the Spanish third tier to the Bundesliga, Guardiola had previously experienced nothing but success, but his first season in England was mixed and not what City fans were expecting when he arrived at the club.
Part of the problem was that Guardiola seemed reluctant to veer away from his footballing ideals, and a few months ago, little appeared to have changed.
“The team has played the way I wanted,” Guardiola told ESPN Brasil in mid-May. “It is more important to me than winning a trophy.”
However, Guardiola’s transfer activity since suggests he has realised that simply keeping possession and looking for openings may not always suffice in the high octane environment of the Premier League.
He has now assembled a squad with many more facets for opponents to contend with.
Energetic fullbacks have become increasingly important in recent years and, with that in mind, City acted swiftly to bolster their ranks.
Out went the ageing Pablo Zabaleta, Bacary Sagna and Gael Clichy and in came just under 120 million pounds-worth ($158.46 million-worth) of the most exhilarating fullbacks in the world - giving City an entirely different dimension altogether.
Guardiola could, therefore, go with two up front, to get the most out of Danilo, Kyle Walker and Benjamin Mendy in a 3-5-2 system.
Bernardo Silva, signed from Monaco, has also been added to the staggering wealth of attacking options available to Guardiola.
Argentine Sergio Aguero may even struggle to get a game, such is the extent of the strength in depth at the Etihad.
Aguero helped City finish third in the league, scoring 20 goals in 31 league appearances, last season but his starting role came under intense scrutiny following the arrival of Brazilian forward Gabriel Jesus in January.
“I think Manchester City are the team to beat,” former Manchester United winger Ryan Giggs told Sky Sports. “I looked at them towards the end of last season and the forward players they've got are scary.”
There are still areas of concern. Defender Vincent Kompany’s fitness remains pivotal to their solidarity at the back, while new goalkeeper Ederson will take some bedding in, even if he has impressed in pre-season.
Guardiola’s underlying philosophy will not change - still expect City to keep possession - but they will have an additional threat out wide, even more finesse in midfield, and young forwards who will have learned a great deal from last season.
City have the potential to blow away all who stand in their way, and that wait for another Guardiola title may not be too far over the horizon.
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(Editing by Toby Davis)