Man City 2 Sunderland 1
THE Pep Guardiola revolution began with a whimper rather than a bang at the Etihad Stadium with a relatively uninspiring victory over one of last season’s relegation candidates - but in the matter of team selection, the new Manchester City manager wasted no time in making an impact.
Joe Hart, one of a number of England players to emerge from the summer’s disastrous Euro 2016 campaign with his reputation dented, was left out of Guardiola’s first City selection, his place going to Argentinian deputy Wily Caballero, a keeper whose City career to date can most kindly be described as mediocre.
Guardiola insists that Hart, along with other high-profile absentees like Yaya Toure, Samir Nasri and Eliaquim Mangala, still has a firm future with the club but it is difficult to see how, in the case of a goalkeeper who was pilloried for his performances in France.
“It is a tough decision,” said Caballero of Guardiola’s goalkeeping issue.
“For sure, it’s very tough in this situation for me, for Joe, for the fans, for everything, but I just tried to think and enjoy this opportunity and the most important thing is that we won as well.
“It doesn’t matter who played and when Joe has the opportunity, I think he will enjoy it as well as me.
“I wanted this opportunity. I am here, I try to show to Pep and all my players and all the City fans in every single day that I have had in the last three years.
“But this kind of decision is for the boss and for the club, the most important thing for me is to just enjoy this game that I had and that I keep improving and keep trying to play as the boss wants to play.”
At 34, there may be little scope left for Caballero to keep improving but where he has a key edge over Hart is in the issue of playing the ball, a weakness in Hart’s game but something Guardiola has always looked for in his number ones.
Those European football cognoscenti who predicted the moment Guardiola was appointed in February that Hart’s place would be under pressure can feel pleased with themselves this morning.
“This is a very important change,” said Caballero of the ball-playing goalkeeper role. “Sometimes we are taking risks when we pass the ball in our back and my first pass was really really complicated because they could have scored, but after that we played really better from the back and we can start playing as the boss wants.”
“John” - £50 million centre-half Stones - certainly looked to have improved the centre of City’s defence instantly, while winger Nolito, the only other debutant on the day, showed glimpses that suggest he will be an upgrade on ineffective predecessors like Nasri or Jesus Navas.
But it is the subtle changes that could define the success or otherwise of Guardiola’s reign at the world’s wealthiest club.
The former Barcelona and Bayern Munich manager allowed players to remain at home on Friday night, rather than force them to stay in a hotel attached to the stadium, but put them through a light training session on Saturday morning and, after the game, players were ordered to eat together at the stadium, to start the recovery process and avoid long traffic queues.
Still, whatever changes Guardiola makes, he can ultimately only be judged on results and this one was acceptable - just - as Paddy McNair’s late own goal brought the City manager his first victory in English football after Jermain Defoe had levelled an early Sergio Aguero penalty.
MANCHESTER CITY (4-1-4-1): Caballero 7; Sagna 7, Stones 8, KOLAROV 9, Clichy 7 (Iheanacho 80); Fernandinho 7; Sterling 8, Silva 6 (Delph 64, 7), De Bruyne 6, Nolito 7 (Navas 59, 7); Aguero 7.
Subs not used: Hart, Zabaleta, Fernando, Otamendi.
SUNDERLAND (4-2-3-1): Manone 7; Love 7, Kone 7, Kaboul 7, van Aanholt 5; O’Shea 7, Rodwell 7; Watmore 7 (Januzaj 64, 6), Borini 6, GOOCH 8 (Khazri 65, 7); Defoe 7 (McNair 83).
Subs not used: Djilobodji, Pickford, Lens, Asoro.
Referee: R Madley 7
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