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Talking Points: Pep’s Soul Men Prevail…

TALKING POINTS: A winning debut for Pep

TALKING POINTS: A winning debut for Pep

It’s a quick turnaround for City following Saturday’s opening day win over Sunderland.

Steaua Bucharest are up next for Pep Guardiola’s men as they aim to secure UEFA Champions League qualification for a sixth-successive year.

Here’s what we learned from Saturday and what we can look out for on Tuesday – all in one neat little package…

1 Meaning of Soul

It was truly an “I was there” moment for supporters on Saturday as they descended upon the Etihad Stadium for the first day of a new era.

Pep, in the knowledge that his players had not had enough time to fully assimilate his complex tactical ideas, had called for his men to show “soul” on the opening day and they certainly did just that.

City suffocated Sunderland for large spells of the game with Bacary Sagna and Gael Clichy coming inside to function as defensive midfielders when the home side were in possession, allowing the Blues to outnumber the Black Cats in the middle of the pitch.

The pressing was relentless as Guardiola’s players swamped their opponents every time they lost the ball, allowing them to control the flow of the game.

If there was one thing that was missing, it was the creation of gilt-edged chances but on this occasion, City’s desire was the determining factor as they wore down the Wearsiders’ stubborn resistance and tellingly, when the goal came it was a case of almost literally forcing the ball over the line through sheer force of will.

It’s early days but it felt like the kind of game we might have dropped points in last season – happily, that all-important “soul” carried us through…

2 The Real Raheem

Continuing his excellent pre-season form, Raheem looked like a man reborn on Saturday, ensuring a torrid evening for Sunderland left-back Patrick van Aanholt.

He got off to the perfect start, winning the third-minute penalty which was coolly dispatched by Kun Aguero and he didn’t look back from there, his pacey dribbling, trickery and clever movement helping to tip the game in his team’s favour.

More than just a tactical mastermind, Guardiola is equally revered for his ability to imbue his players with confidence and his treatment of “Raz” (as he called him in his press conference) looks to be doing the trick.

Guardiola said: "We need people who stay wide, go to the byline or go inside. That is so important. He’s a fighter. Of course we want more of him, but I’m very happy, he’s a very nice guy. We want to help him to see the real Sterling."

3 Lucky?

Because of the nature of the late, scruffy own goal by Paddy McNair, City’s win could be dismissed as fortunate but the statistics tell a different story.

With 77% possession and 12 shots to Sunderland’s five, there’s no question that Guardiola’s men were good value for the three points.

David Moyes admitted after the game that Sunderland’s plan was to stifle their opponents and hope for some joy on the counter-attack and it seems likely that this blueprint will be adopted by many other managers in the away dugout at the Etihad this season, especially seeing as it very nearly worked for the Black Cats.

However, City will get better at breaking down defensively rigid sides the more time they spend practicing moves from the Pep playbook in the coming weeks and months.

4 Return of the General?

The manager has one of those nice headaches when it comes to selecting his defence for Tuesday’s game in Romania.

Nicolas Otamendi returns from his niggle for this trip to Steaua Bucharest but will he displace Aleksandar Kolarov after the Serb’s fine performance on Saturday?

Pep was certainly pleased with Aleks’s contribution, telling journalists: “I think Kolarov today had one of the best performances I have seen in a central defender.”

Steaua are a team known for launching long balls though, so Otamendi may come into contention thanks to his aerial prowess.

5 Pass Masters

Nobody made more passes than Fernandinho’s 97 this weekend – a phenomenal tally which was just five fewer than the entire Sunderland team.

As a team, we completed 584 passes, including 216 in the attacking third and the top 18 pass combinations between two players in the match were all between men in sky blue.

The Pep Effect…

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