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Media Watch: Guardiola hailed for Sterling work

STERLING WORK: Pep Guardiola has drawn the best from Raheem Sterling

STERLING WORK: Pep Guardiola has drawn the best from Raheem Sterling

Another day, another heap of praise for Pep Guardiola’s City.

From managerial masterclasses to Raheem Sterling’s 'blue-hot' form, the Blues are earning deserved acclaim around the globe.

(It’s a pleasant change!)

Matthew Syed of the Times has been particularly impressed with the way City utilise space, likening it to chess and choreographed dance.

He scribes: “In 1973, Herbert Simon, a future Nobel Prize winner, led an experiment to test the memory of chess experts.

“The experiment revealed that chess mastery is not about superior memory, it is about pattern recognition. Long practice enables grandmasters to encode the structure of competitive chess, so that they can grasp the meaning of a match scenario with a single glance at the board.

“This is sometimes called ‘chunking.’ This is why top players suffer almost no deterioration in performance under blitz conditions — they generate usable options almost instantly.

“I was thinking of all this in the context of an impressive start to the season by Manchester City. You see, football is also a game of patterns — albeit patterns that encompass time as well as space.

“This was perhaps the key insight of Johan Cruyff, Pep Guardiola’s influential predecessor as coach of Barcelona. While Brazil prized the individual dribbler, and the English valued heart, Cruyff’s emphasis was how teams combine to exploit patterns.

“The key word, here, is ‘choreography.’ Given that a given player has possession for only about 1-2 per cent of overall match time, dominance can emerge only through patterns that encompass the entire team.

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“A pass, for example, has meaning only if a team-mate is running into the intended space, with new vistas of possibility emerging as other players dart into fresh positions.

“Barcelona’s game under Cruyff — the ball shifting around constantly moving players — may have looked spontaneous, but it was built upon an appreciation of shared patterns.

“It is no surprise, then, that Guardiola’s training methodology focuses so relentlessly on encouraging his players to encode, and further elaborate, these patterns and conventions.

“The key insight, however, is that creativity in football is recursive. A sublime diagonal pass of the kind De Bruyne executed against Stoke in October is only as effective as the run of Leroy Sané to convert it. Creativity is not undermined when players conform to shared patterns; it is enhanced.”

Meanwhile, the Independent highlight the impact Guardiola has had on Sterling's improved performances.

Jack Pitt-Brooke reflects: “It was back in Bournemouth, in August, after just the second win of Manchester City’s remarkable season, when Pep Guardiola made clear what he had in mind for Raheem Sterling this season.

Sterling had just won City the game in dramatic circumstances, his 96th-minute shot deflecting off Andrew Surman’s heel and in, sparking celebrations so wild that Mike Dean officiously sent Sterling off.

“Three months on, Guardiola seems to be getting through. Sterling is City’s top scorer for the season, with 12 goals, edging ahead of Sergio Aguero (11), Gabriel Jesus (10) and Leroy Sane (8).

“That already makes this the best goal-scoring season of his career and we are only one third of the way through. Although he did not want to name his goal targets when asked afterwards, on current form he should be aiming for 20 in the league and could even reach 30 in all competitions.

“It is not just the numbers of goals though, but the nature of them, that is so important to City. Last season he had a reputation for scoring the fifth goal in a 5-0 win but this year he now has four crucial late ones to his name. These are the goals of a player who is becoming as decisive as Guardiola always hoped.

“But there is even more to his improvement than goals alone.

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“It is all the more impressive because Guardiola has had to change how he first planned to use Sterling this year. Sterling spent most of last season playing out wide, because City did not have good attacking full-backs, so Sterling and Sane had to provide the width.

“The hope at the start of the season was that Kyle Walker, Danilo and Benjamin Mendy would allow Sterling to come inside and attack the opposition centre-backs.

“When Guardiola arrived at City he made Sterling one of his first projects, telling him that he would fight for the youngster as long as he was willing to work hard in return.

“Usefully versatile, newly decisive, always dangerous in the opposition box, the evidence of this season is that Sterling is playing better than he ever has done before. To his credit, and to Guardiola’s.”

In other news, Southampton manager Mauricio Pellegrino has fuelled the fire ahead of Wednesday night’s trip to the Etihad Stadium, insisting City are beatable.

As the Daily Star report, the Saints boss told press: "Nobody is unbeatable in football and in sport.

"Every single team has got problems, because Huddersfield were really close to getting something.

"We have to be on the top if we want to have any chance. Hopefully it could be a nice day for us.

“It will be really tough for us and we will need to be a hundred per cent with our performance, a hundred per cent without attitude if we want to have any chance.

"It's incredible how they can sustain their performance every single game, playing mostly with the same players.

"To be in the top team the first thing that you need is to create a mentality to try and to do it and I think now they are in an amazing moment."

Finally, as always, there’s a transfer rumour to ponder over as Sports Illustrated claim City are eyeing a move for Real Sociedad defender Inigo Martinez, having sent scouts to assess him.

An article reads: “The 26-year-old Spanish centre-half was linked with a move to Manchester in the summer, but a deal never went through.

“Martinez has made just four international appearances for Spain, but is a regular in the Real Sociedad starting lineup. As a centre-back, he has managed 16 league goals during his time at the club.

“Martinez has played his whole career at Real Sociedad, who are currently seventh in La Liga table. Guardiola could be tempted to move for Martinez in January, who could immediately fill in for the absent Stones.

“The versatile Martinez is also capable of playing at left-back, which would provide more options for Man City on that side whilst Benjamin Mendy remains sidelined.”

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