There were plenty of reasons to take seriously Manchester City’s status as favourites to win the Premier League title after watching them dominate Saturday’s match at the Amex Stadium.
There was the familiar skill, movement, and vision of Kevin De Bruyne and David Silva in midfield, there was the cutting edge provided by Sergio Aguero, who made the breakthrough after 70 minutes of battering at a stubborn home defence. There was an unusually solid-looking defensive system, albeit one rarely challenged by defensively-minded opponents.
And then there was the bench. Riding the pine were Leroy Sane and Raheem Sterling, who appeared as second-half substitutes, and new arrival Bernardo Silva from AS Monaco, who did not even get to his feet — three players who cost an average of around £40 million each. When £52m (€57m) Benjamin Mendy, also from Monaco, is fit, Danilo, at a mere £26.5m from Real Madrid, is certain to face an increased risk of splinters in his backside.
A nice problem to have for Pep Guardiola, the manager, or just a problem, as too many big-name players jostle for 11 starting places, even with Champions League games in the schedule? “If they were not generous with their time, then it would be difficult, but there are a lot of games and everybody is going to play,” Guardiola said.
If the Catalan persists with the formation that began against Brighton, full-backs providing the width in front of three centre backs, then midfield places will be in especially short supply. “But if you want to play in a certain way, the way I like, with players on the ball, then you need talent,” Guardiola said.
“Our midfield positions are really good. We have Fernandinho, Gundogan is coming back, with Kevin, with Silva, with Raz, [Sterling] who can play in that position. Phil Foden who was outstanding in pre-season. They all have such a lot of quality. I like players who, when they have the ball, they don’t lose the ball. I love that. And all of them are going to play. Last season I rotated the team a lot and I will do that again. They will all be involved. After that, it depends on them and if they accept my decision or not. If they don’t accept it, it will be their problem, not mine.”
De Bruyne seemed content with that afterwards, although as a starter, he might be expected to say so. “I’m ready to play whenever they need me,” he said. “We’ve got 60-65 games and sometimes that can be a lot. Last year with the injuries we had, you don’t always have those options but this year our team is loaded. Our bench is unbelievable. And we’ve still got a few injuries. And we’re going to change [formation] a lot this season. Maybe he wants to try to start like this but it can go quick... sometimes it’s three, sometimes it’s five or four. These days you need to adapt quickly.”
Brighton will also need to adapt quickly to life in the Premier League, to judge by their first game at this level since 1983. They need fewer nerves, a little more calmness on the ball and more pace in attack — to be provided if record signing Jose Izquierdo, the Colombia winger, receives a work permit this week after his €15 million transfer from Club Brugge.
Chris Hughton, the Brighton manager and former Ireland defender and assistant manager, admitted that he had been wary of City’s threat when setting up his team and will play with more ambition against lesser opponents. “You can’t be expansive against the quality they’ve got,” he said. “One negative is that in the periods where we had the ball we could have kept it a little bit better.
“We won’t be up against that type of opposition [every week], and there’ll be games here where we’ll expect more from our team, and we’ll expect to give ourselves more opportunities to score goals. It was always going to be difficult today. I knew the chances would be minimal — but we managed a few.”
They came in a brief second-half flurry, aided by unconvincing goalkeeping on the part of the latest City experiment in goal, Ederson. But shots by defenders Shane Duffy and Lewis Dunk were blocked, and soon City led. De Bruyne robbed Dave Stephens and Silva set up Aguero to score, five minutes before Dunk’s own goal made sure.
Ryan 6; Bruno 7, Duffy 6, Dunk 6, Suttner 6; March 6 (Knockaert 75), Propper 5, Stephens 5, Brown 5 (Murphy 24, 5); Gross 6; Hemed 4 (Murray 59, 6).
Substitutes not used:
Maenpaa, Huenemeier, Sidwell, Rosenior.
MAN CITY (3-1-4-2):
Ederson 5; Kompany 6, Stones 6, Otamendi 6; Fernandinho 7; Walker 9, David Silva 8, De Bruyne 8, Danilo 6 (Sane 69, 6); Jesus 7 (Sterling 77), Aguero 7 (Fernando 83).
Substitutes not used:
Bravo, Mangala, Bernardo Silva, Toure.
Michael Oliver 8.
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