Opening-day struggle proves Pep has his work cut out

LONDON • After waiting so long to usher in Pep Guardiola, with his reputation for bewitching football and a master plan based on worldwide domination, it is probably fair to say Manchester City may have expected more from his first game.

They won, courtesy of an 87th-minute own goal, but the revolution is clearly going to need time and it was difficult not to pity David Moyes and his Sunderland players, given how close they came to turning Guardiola's grand entrance into an ordeal.

"I realise now how difficult it is," was the verdict from the former Barcelona and Bayern Munich manager, after the 2-1 Premier League win on Saturday.

Guardiola's body language on the touchline certainly did not offer the impression of a man who liked what he saw and there was a considerable element of fortune about the game's decisive moment when Paddy McNair, one of the Sunderland substitutes, turned a right-wing cross into his own net.

The new team-mates of McNair, just signed from Manchester United, were probably deeply disappointed given that they refused to capitulate following Sergio Aguero's fourth-minute penalty, culminating in Jermain Defoe turning in a 71st-minute equaliser.

With a touch more ambition, Sunderland might actually have put more pressure on Willy Caballero, City's occasionally accident-prone goalkeeper, on a traumatic day for England No. 1 Joe Hart that saw him relegated to the bench.

Midfield stalwart Yaya Toure could also be forgiven if he were filled with insecurity, considering he did not even merit a place among Guardiola's substitutes.

The club's supporters must surely have felt slightly dizzy trying to keep up with all the changes.

Guardiola has tweaked City's tactics in a number of ways and, having started with a 4-1-4-1 formation, it was fascinating to see the switch to 3-2-4-1 when they attacked.

It is plainly a work in progress and the Spaniard will have to hope his players are intelligent enough to understand what he wants. This, however, was not the day it gelled.

Guardiola insisted his team "played really, really well" despite needing an own goal to win. "When we don't play good I will be the first to say we played bad," he said.

Moyes, who was taking charge of Sunderland for the first time in a competitive match, described the outcome as "gut-wrenching".


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 15, 2016, with the headline 'Opening-day struggle proves Pep has his work cut out'. Print Edition | Subscribe