The Big Match

City juggernaut too strong for Cherries

Kelechi Iheanacho.
Kelechi Iheanacho.PHOTOS: REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, ACTION IMAGES, EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY
Steve Cook.
Steve Cook.PHOTOS: REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, ACTION IMAGES, EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY
Ilkay Gundogan.
Ilkay Gundogan.PHOTOS: REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, ACTION IMAGES, EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY
Andrew Surman.
Andrew Surman.PHOTOS: REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, ACTION IMAGES, EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

Bournemouth play good football, but they'll struggle to contain City's 5-pronged attack

So how do you stop Manchester City? Manchester United, equipped with home advantage, £145 million (S$261 million) of signings and the world's most expensive player, failed to find a satisfactory answer. So too everyone else. Now it is Bournemouth's turn to try.

If Man United are arguably the Premier League's biggest club, the Cherries are the smallest. They have never beaten City and conceded nine goals in last season's meetings. They face a team with seven wins from seven.

The temptation is to wish them good luck. They will surely need it.

Eddie Howe, Bournemouth's 38-year-old manager, is precocious. Compared to Pep Guardiola, however, he may seem the apprentice to the Catalan's master.

Yet Howe has been tipped as a future England or Arsenal manager. After famous wins over United and Chelsea, it would be another feather in his cap if he becomes the first Premier League manager to both identify and expose flaws in Guardiola's game plan.

The most obvious was apparent at Old Trafford: Goalkeeper Claudio Bravo's visible discomfort against the aerial ball and set-pieces.

Yet Bournemouth do not have a battery of tall players. Their blueprint, like City's, is based on possession, rather than launching long balls into the opposition's box.

They are a passing team who like to get men forward. The trouble is that City are better in that respect. Bournemouth have improved defensively, only conceding two goals in their last three games after leaking 25 in the previous 10, but this is a test of their organisation and concentration.

Guardiola has been both bold and revolutionary in finding a way to field five attacking players, with twin No. 10s granted more room because their wingers hug the touchlines.

Man United, in a failed attempt at pressing, granted them room between the lines. Bournemouth cannot make the same mistake. Howe must consider bringing in Jack Wilshere for Josh King to give them a third central midfielder.

The only good news for Bournemouth is that David Silva is injured and Sergio Aguero suspended but if Kelechi Iheanacho seems the probable striker, City have enviable options among his supporting cast.

It will be intriguing if Guardiola gives a first start to Leroy Sane, the £40 million winger who is the most expensive German ever.

City threaten goals aplenty. But while they have surged into a lead in every game, they have also conceded in all four league matches. In each, there has been a point where the opponents have either equalised or threatened to reel them back in. That should offer some encouragement to Bournemouth.

Getting a result involves winning pivotal moments and, perhaps, capitalising when City's five forward-thinking men are all caught upfield.

Thus far, however, Guardiola's men are not merely outscoring teams. They are also out-running them. This presents a problem for anyone trying to catch them.

MAN CITY V BOURNEMOUTH

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Match points: Man City v Bournemouth

Key battles

Raheem Sterling v Charlie Daniels


Raheem Sterling. PHOTO: REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, ACTION IMAGES, EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

Sterling was named the Premier League's Player of the Month for August. Daniels was voted Bournemouth's best player of last season by his team-mates. He impressed as an attacking left-back but the rejuvenated Sterling will provide a test of his defensive credentials. The City forward has two league goals, one assist and has won two penalties so far.


Charlie Daniels. PHOTO: REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, ACTION IMAGES, EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

Kelechi Iheanacho v Steve Cook

Iheanacho justified Guardiola's faith in him by scoring what proved to be the decisive goal in the Manchester derby. He is an instinctive finisher and averages a goal every 91 minutes in the Premier League, which bodes badly for Bournemouth. Cook played in both thrashings by City last season and has yet to prove that he is a Premier League player.

Ilkay Gundogan v Andrew Surman

Two playmakers, but one is likely to see more of the ball. Gundogan made a belated debut in Wednesday's 4-0 thrashing of Borussia Monchengladbach and Guardiola's first signing is likely to deputise for David Silva again. Surman ran the most miles in the division last year and his fitness will be crucial in closing City down.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 17, 2016, with the headline 'City juggernaut too strong for Cherries'. Print Edition | Subscribe