Guardiola is reinvigorating his Manchester City players, Sterling and Kolarov especially
Pep Guardiola is already making his mark on Manchester City. The City boss has pulled no punches when it comes to getting rid of the ‘dead wood’ in the City ranks – Joe Hart, Samir Nasri, Eliaquim Mangala and Wilfried Bony were all sent on loan on transfer deadline day and will likely never play for the club again when their respective loan spells expire.
If you don’t fit into Pep’s plans, even if you are a fan favourite like Hart, you are out the door.
That is the ruthless nature of Guardiola – a stark contrast from the style of management we saw in Manuel Pellegrini’s tenure in charge.
But on the flip side, Guardiola has surprised a few with some of his decisions and has shown that those who are willing to adapt to his methods will get a look-in.
Two prime examples are Raheem Sterling and Aleksandar Kolarov, who both had difficult seasons last year and have been given a new lease of life under the new regime.
Sterling was under immense pressure from the off when he made his £49m to City from Liverpool and though he was largely inconsistent, he did score 11 goals in all competitions.
However his performances at Euro 2016 were less than impressive and he suffered from criticism from fans and the media alike. It’s worth remembering that he wasn’t the only England player to disappoint, which makes even more absurd that he was so badly scapegoated.
Pep Guardiola assured Sterling that he had faith in him and that has been clear in the first few games of the season. The 21-year old has almost been reborn as a player, playing with a real swagger and confidence that was lacking last season, aside from impressive Champions League displays against Sevilla, Borussia Monchengladbach and Dynamo Kiev.
In his first two games of the season, he was dynamic on the right-hand side and frightened his opposing full-back – winning two penalties in the process.
He also grabbed assists in games against Steau Bucharest and Stoke City, before his match-winning performance against West Ham United at the weekend, in which he scored two incredibly well-taken goals. He looks far more comfortable on the right flank where he can go on the outside and brush past defenders.
It is early days, but a rejuvenated Sterling bodes well for City, but not for opposing full-backs.
Similarly, in a different position, Kolarov has looked very sharp this season after looking nailed on to be one of the first players to be disposed by Guardiola.
Yet the new boss has also had a positive influence on the Serbian, with Pep saying “it is harder to find a better centre-back than Kolarov.”
It’s not a role Kolarov is known for playing, but was trialled in the position in the early stages of pre-season and started the first game of the season against Sunderland, alongside new man John Stones.
Following the departure of Mangala on loan to Valencia, Kolarov is City’s only logical choice for the left side central defensive role and it does appear so suit him quite well. Normally seen as a liability at left-back when up against pacey wingers, he looks much more composed in central defence, where he is able to bring the ball out from the back.
The former Lazio man has played down his transformation, but it’s clear to see the effect Guardiola has had on him. On Saturday, Guardiola replaced Stones for Kolarov in the second-half as City looked to see out the game – a tweak that would usually keep City fans on pins when West Ham were attacking.
However, Kolarov was incredibly useful in getting City’s passing pattern going again following a difficult period in the game and made a couple of important defensive contributions.
It’s early days in Guardiola’s reign, but things are going nice and smoothly at the moment. At FC Barcelona, it took a considerable period for the players to fully click and get to grips to Pep’s philosophy – they picked up one point in the first two games. Clearly, City players have quickly adapted to Guardiola’s training methods – much quicker than he envisioned himself.
And the primary players who are buying into Pep’s plan are Sterling and Kolarov – the two looking fitter, sharper and better than ever. Here’s hoping that after the dreaded international break, both players can continue their fine form – starting at Old Trafford in the Manchester derby on September 10!