As crazy as it sounds, we are already five weeks into the 2016-17 English Premier League season. Thus far, the Premier League has gotten off to a great start without the insanity typical of last season. The big clubs are back to their winning ways with a few teams like Everton joining them at the top of the table.
The newly promoted teams have managed to keep pace pretty well thus far. For example, Burnley upset Liverpool early in the season. Perhaps one of the biggest surprises has been Leicester City’s slow start to defending its title, though playing in the Champions League has spurred the Foxes back into action.
While it is far too early to predict the winner of this race for the title, one thing is very clear: Pep Guardiola has had a galvanizing effect on Manchester City.
The announcement released midway through last year that Guardiola would take over Manchester City was a clear indicator that City’s management meant business. The Guardiola news appeared to have had quite the negative effect on the team, as a series of losses caused City to finish out the year in fourth place, a full 15 points behind champion Leicester City.
This was a result that nobody expected, and it raised serious questions. Would Guardiola be able to rejuvenate this team? How willing were the owners to grant Guardiola, who is regarded as one of the greatest managers in the game, complete control over the team? Was the end of the 2015-16 season merely a fluke, or was it a harbinger of things yet to come?
Five weeks into the season, I think that it is safe to say that Guardiola has managed to dismiss some fears. It was a hectic summer at the Etihad with Nolito, Claudio Bravo, John Stones, Ilkay Gündogan and Leroy Sané all joining the squad.
Guardiola raised some eyebrows when the news broke that he had implemented new rules. For instance, he reportedly told “unfit” players like Samir Nasri to not come train with the team until they had reached an acceptable weight. Is this unorthodox? It may be, but so far it has paid off.
Perhaps Guardiola has been most widely criticized for his treatment of former first team goalkeeper Joe Hart. Coming off of a dismal Euro campaign, Hart was clearly not the same player that he used to be, but Guardiola essentially shunned him by choosing goalkeeper Willy Caballero over him.
While many thought that this was just a temporary move, the writing on the wall became clear when Guardiola brought in Barcelona keeper Claudio Bravo. Hart was shipped out on loan to Serie A side Torino FC, a far cry from a prestigious club like Manchester City.
I agree that Guardiola’s treatment of Hart was rather harsh. Guardiola damaged Hart’s confidence not once but twice by choosing other goalies over him. While it is true that Hart is in need of improvement, Guardiola could have handled this situation better by helping to build Hart’s confidence instead of transferring him. I can only hope that Hart regains his confidence in Italy and ends up at a club that values his talents.
With the exception of City’s shaky opening day win over Sunderland and the entire Hart crisis, Guardiola has been very successful at City thus far. The team is once more looking like a dangerous threat, largely thanks to the stellar play of midfielders Kevin De Bruyne and the revitalized Raheem Sterling. While I think that Guardiola’s comment that De Bruyne is second only to Lionel Messi is stretching the truth, there is no denying the positive impact that De Bruyne has had on City.
Manchester City is simply a delight to watch, which is why it is deservedly the only team with a perfect record in the Premier League.
Guardiola may have only had a summer to make his mark, but the results are already showing. Every week, Manchester City looks more and more like a team that is capable of winning the title quite handily.
While the Champions League may prove to be a different story, seeing as the team frequently crashes out after the group stage and attendance has been abysmal thus far, this appears to be a very promising season for Guardiola and his boys.
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