Pep Guardiola starts his second season in charge of Manchester City on Saturday when he takes them to the south coast to face the Championship runner`s up, Brighton and Hove Albion.
A tough fixture right out of the gate for City as Chris Hughton`s newly promoted side will be looking to make a dramatic entry when they play in the Premier League for the first time in the club`s history. We can all remember vividly what happened at the start of the 2013/14 season when City started the new season with an away fixture against a newly promoted side hungry to make an impact??..despite taking the lead the Sky Blues fell to an opening day defeat at the hands of Cardiff City.
No repeats this time please boys
Since taking charge of the Seagulls midway through the 2014-15 season Hughton has demonstrated his managerial credentials by first securing their safety before taking them to a third pace finish the following year and then securing promotion behind Newcastle in 2016/17. He will clearly be looking for his side to make a good fist of their first Premier League campaign and will be looking for his side to announce their arrival in Englan`s top league by giving Pep`s side a ‘bloody nose’.
When the Albion’s players step out onto pitch at the Amex stadium on Saturday in front of what is sure to be a full house you can bet that the home fans will make their voices heard. With a capacity of 30,750 it promises to be a special occasion for the home side especially as they will be taking on a City team packed with stars, regarded as title contenders and managed by one of the best coaches in the world. The Seagulls will be incentivised make no mistake and I expect them to be quick out of the blocks on the day. The up side of course is that is they play an open game looking to impress their fans and those watching on BT Sport, it may be just the type of game that will allow City`s attacking quality to shine especially ion they play with the kind of zip and verve witnessed in pre-season.
Pep knows that the pressure will be on immediately and we can expect a return to the standard media comparisons of the costs of the respect squads with the home side`s most expensive line up being potentially worth £38m+* and City`s somewhere in the region of £350m+*. I anticipate much comment on how one of City`s full backs cost more than the entire Brighton squad or similar. Sky Blue fans will be well used to the cries of ‘Moneybags` by now and can expect more of the same this season after the summer transfer window and the club`s significant outlay on the defensive unit. The necessity of the expenditure was of the club`s own making having allowed their full backs to grow old together and the market duly extracted it`s toll on the owner`s chequebook.
However from what we have witnessed pre-season it would seem that the investment has been well made – and we have yet to see the latest recruit, Benjamin Mendy, make an appearance in City colours. Danilo has looked a great acquisition and another versatile ‘Swiss army knife` of a player that is so appreciated by Guardiola. In Ederson Pep looks to have acquired a keeper who fits his bill given the stop stopping and distribution witnessed in pre-season. Walker too has settled in quickly and seems at home and there was a fluidity and tempo to City`s games that felt fresh and promising. I anticipate much booing when we play Spurs at Wembley because it is the new law of football that you boo a player who moves clubs. We await to see whether the Brighton fans decide to follow the template established elsewhere in the league last season whenever Raheem Sterling played, despite the fact that the player or transfer had nothing to do with their club. I hope that they are better than that.
Hughton has added some 12 players over the summer including a goalkeeper, Matthew Ryan, from Valencia, Markus Suttner from FC Ingolstadt and their most recent addition and record signing – Dutch midfielder Davy Propper who joined from PSV Eindhoven earlier this week for £6m. More familiar names in the opposition squad include ex-Palace striker Glenn Murray and ex-Stoke midfielder Steve Sidwell.
City got off to a flying start last season and will be looking to do the same this time around. The fact that they have been set the challenge of facing a newly promoted side making their debut in the Premier League on their home ground and who will be well up for it will need to be set aside with the players delivering a professional performance. The media will of course be hoping for an upset and for City and Pep to fall on their faces and we will soon find out whether City`s short pre-season preparations (only 4 matches) will have been sufficient. There seemed to be promising signs – dispatching Real Madrid 4-1 and fellow title challengers Spurs 3-0 in the International Champions Cup are decent results pre-season ‘friendly` or not. City finished off their preparations with a comfortable 3-0 win over West Ham in Iceland last Friday with the goals coming from Jesus, Sterling and Aguero. It may have been his single successful strike of the pre-season but it was beautifully crafted and finished with his usual aplomb past Joe Hart whose strident shouting throughout the match was setting my teeth on edge so goodness knows what it felt like to his defenders.
A solid week of training for the Sky Blues will allow Pep to further assess his options for the weekend and the start of a possibly a defining campaign for him. No trophies this time out and the media will be all over him like a rash. The stakes are high but I think that he has learnt from his first season and now has a squad that is better equipped to deliver this time around.
*Stats courtesy of Transfermarkt.com
Clearly an unknown quantity as they move up to the Premier League, Brighton arrive in the Promised Land boasting an impressive record of scoring in 91% of their home games last season and with a healthy goal difference of +34. They finished in second place in the Championship on 93 points having led the table for long periods and only letting the title slip as the season came to a close.
Their pre-season has seen them undefeated scoring 14 goals and conceding only 4. Interestingly their fixtures included a match against the latest club to join the City Football Group, Girona, where the game ended 0-0 but which saw Brighton finish the game with 10 men. Their final preparation for the Premier League took the shape of a home game against Atletico Madrid on Sunday 6th August which ended 2-3, the winning goal for Atletico only coming in the 88th minute at the Amex.
Stats** comparison (2016/17):-
Brighton & Hove Albion (Championship)
Goals per game – 1.7
Avg Possesion – 51%
Pass Accuracy – 76.5%
Shots per game – 13.4
Discipline – 75Y, 5R
City (Premier League 2016/17)
Goals per game – 2
Avg Possesion – 60.9%
Pass Accuracy – 85.5%
Shots per game – 16.9
Discipline – 71Y, 4R
**Stats courtesy of whoscored.com
The last time the two teams met was in 2008 in the League Cup where the game ended 2-2 after extra time, graced by goals from Glenn Murray and Anyinsah for the home side and Gelson Fernandes and Stephen Ireland for City. Brighton went on to win the penalty shoot out 5-3 after Michael Ball missed City`s 4th spot kick. Also on the penalty score sheet that day??Vincent Kompany.
Referee – Michael Oliver
Assistants – S Bennett, J Collin
Fourth Official – Stuart Attwell
Brighton`s latest signing Propper will probably make his debut in midfield but they will be missing striker Sam Baldock who is sidelined with a calf injury whilst French winger Anthony Knockaert may face a fitness test. Hughton suffered blow in the friendly against Atletico Madrid when midfielder Beram Kayla fractured his fibula, an injury which will sideline the player for up to 10 weeks. They will also be without Kazenga Lua Lua who appears to be on a 4 match ban?.which is said to have started on 15th Dec 2016 so I can only guess he has been away?..
City will be without Gundogan who is not expected to be fully fit until next month but who may make an appearance in Tuesday’s friendly in Girona, Spain. Benjamin Mendy arrived at City with a minor muscle injury and remains a doubt – we await updates from Pep at his press conference as to whether he is considered ready for his first outing as a City player. My guess is that he will get a run out in the friendly in Spain on Tuesday against Girona before being pitched into a competitive match possibly against Everton on 19th August.
Potential starting XI, subs & formation
Having deployed a 3-5-2 formation in three of the four pre-season matches it would not be a surprise to see Pep return to a traditional back four just to flummox everyone. However I am opting for the double-double think and am not going to fall for that???so my pick for the first starting XI of the 2017/18 campaign is: –
Kompany, Stones, Otamendi
Walker, De Bruyne, Fernandinho, Silva D, Danilo
G Jesus, Aguero
Bravo, Adarabioyo, Toure, Silva B, Sane, Sterling, Diaz
The long wait is over – let the football begin!
Come on City!!!
Brighton v Manchester City – Match Preview