Mens Team

Winter: Guardiola has inspired an enlightened era

Ahead of Sunday’s Premier League encounter between Liverpool and City, Club journalist Neil Leigh spoke to Henry Winter, chief football writer from the Times, to get his thoughts on the game.

Henry, let’s start with City’s form. What have you made of our recent domestic performances?

They obviously had the dip against Wolves, but I think - as ever with City - they respond, and we have seen that in the Premier League.

It’s a team of so many talents and it’s got the best manager in the world over the past 15 years in Pep Guardiola, so they were always going to respond.

I have never seen Raheem Sterling play better, Kevin De Bruyne is obviously one of the best midfielders in the world and you look at someone like Sergio Aguero who probably doesn’t get the credit and the recognition he deserves. The fact is what Aguero has done (173 Premier League goals and counting) is a phenomenal achievement and I like the way he has responded. He has slightly changed his game, but he is still as prolific as ever.

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I think we knew that when Guardiola came over here that good players were going to become better and we have seen it, particularly with Raheem in how he has responded to the coaching and I think Mikel Arteta has been very important for him as well.

Kyle Walker had a dip, but he has come back strong as well so never, ever write off Manchester City.

Likewise, what do you make of Liverpool going into the game?

It was interesting what happened last weekend in Liverpool's game at Aston Villa and City's against Southampton.

There was the resilience of both teams after falling behind and then coming back to win and that’s the sign of two great teams.

You have two fantastic managers, two great squads, two great sets of supporters, great atmosphere in the grounds especially when they play each other and there will be an edge on Sunday.

One thing I have particularly noticed with Liverpool this season is that they are crossing a lot more.

I think they average 13 crosses from open last season and now it is 20.

That’s quite a substantial increase – obviously when you have Alexander Arnold and Robertson attacking you are going to have a huge impact.

I don’t need to tell Pep Guardiola this but it’s obviously something City are going to need to look at and seek to stop at source. 

What would you say are the key differences between the two sides? 

I do think they are fairly well matched.

If you go from the back you have two outstanding goalkeepers in Alisson and Ederson, who again I think doesn’t necessarily get the praise he deserves. City have so much possession and in the recent game at Crystal Palace he had nothing to do for 70 minutes and then made that stunning save to deny Benteke.

That concentration for 70 minutes while admiring the attacking football at the other end is phenomenal.

In defence, I’m a huge John Stones fan. I hope to see him kick on again as he is the perfect central defender for the modern era. Clearly you will miss a player like Laporte – he was in the top two or three central defenders in the country last season.

I think there is a strength in depth, but you have to admire the resilience of the people who have come in there. I’m a huge Rodrigo fan too – he has settled in superbly here - and I hope he can come back soon from his injury. He can play at the back too and maybe that is the dream for Pep to play central midfielders at centre half.

When Fernandinho is in there - though he not the tallest player - he has quite a spring on him and he reminded me of Javier Mascherano and the way he adapted.

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For Liverpool I don’t think they quite have the quality that City have in central midfield.

They haven’t got someone like De Bruyne and they haven’t really replaced Steven Gerrard in terms of that box-to-box player. Oxlade-Chamberlain can possibly do that and caries a goal threat. 

Fabinho has been very good as well but when you look at the options Manchester City have in that area, they are considerable.

I thought Ilkay Gundogan would take time to settle into English football and then he had that terrible injury but when he plays, he brings that calmness, that vision and intelligence.

But if there is to be a key man, and the sides are so well matched in all departments, it will be Raheem Sterling.

He is in this unbelievable form that whether he plays on the left or the right or drifts into the middle, he’ll have a huge effect.

City have strength in depth and Pep will have them fired up for it. I think also in terms of the table Pep won’t need too much of a team talk as he knows his team have to go out and look to win.

In terms of the overall title race, how important do you think Sunday will be?

We live in a world where everything gets over-hyped. The next corner or next goal will decide the next decade. I’m sure TV will hype it up as we will in the print world and on social media it will be exploding fireworks all over.

But it is big, and I do think City have to look to go there and win although the history of the Premier League is that big leads have been whittled away in the past. There is a relentlessness and a mission about Liverpool at the moment so City can’t let them get away. A point would be perceived as a good result for Liverpool as it keeps the status quo.

However, Pep goes into every game wanting to win. Whoever he is playing against that is case and it certainly will be for this one.

In your opinion will the way last season panned out have any bearing on this campaign?

Talking to some of the people at Liverpool about what happened last season in the Premier League – despite their Champions League success - there was a frustration there.

You look at the way some of them are playing and how they are talking, what happened last season did leave a scar. But with the best players and the best teams, scars are motivations and can drive them on. So, they will be up for this.

But City will be too. Looking at the table and the points disparity will be motivation enough and they will want to make amends for the results against Norwich and Wolves.

These are proud sportsmen at the top of their profession. They are intensely competitive individuals. 

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Putting the City shirt on will motivate them, but so much of the motivation will come from within. That why’s they get paid what they do and go for big fees - for their hearts and ambition to succeed as much as for their technical attributes.

You’ve spoken before of your huge admiration for Pep Guardiola. Can you quantify his impact and influence on the English game?

I think Pep has changed the game in this country and we have seen it even going down to grassroots level.

When everyone has seen Manchester City playing such beautiful football, playing from the back taking risks, with full backs stepping into midfield and almost staying up there and attacking, I think Pep has brought us into a more enlightened era.

It’s not simply one man, but I do think Guardiola’s impact has been absolutely huge.

There have been probably five or so great managers who have changed the game in this country over the past 135 years and I would put Pep Guardiola in there.

Where do you think this fixture now ranks in terms of other high-profile European or global fixtures?

Look, there are more historic rivalries in terms of the Manchester derby, United v Liverpool and so on, but definitely there is an edge to this game.

It’s the two best teams in the country, the two best squads, the two best managers, proud supporters who absolutely want it so you can see why the eyes of the world are on the game this weekend.

It’s a huge, huge fixture and a cancel all leave appointment for every journalist.


Finally, do you think City and Liverpool’s domestic fight for honours and rivalry will continue for some time?

I think it will.  

With City and Liverpool, you’ve got two teams who are so well organised on the pitch but also so well run off it. The whole sporting director model, the recruitment. 

Obviously, there are financial resources, but we have seen teams in the past with financial clout not always spend it intelligently.

These are two juggernauts and they have both got good men at the wheel.

The opinions published here are personal to the interviewee and do not necessarily reflect the views of Manchester City Football Club.

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