Leroy Sane and Ilkay Gundogan poised to make Manchester City even better – be scared
For 40 minutes, it was the perfect performance.
Manchester City’s showing in the first period of last weekend’s derby clash with Manchester United was one of the best the Premier League has seen in recent years, with their dominance extending across the pitch.
While United did mount something of a second-half comeback, there could be no disputing that City deserved their 2-1 victory at Old Trafford.
Pep Guardiola’s side’s display was even more impressive considering Sergio Aguero was absent through suspension, but the Argentine striker was not the only potential starter unavailable for selection.
Neither Leroy Sane nor Ilkay Gundogan were fit enough to be included in the starting line-up – although the former did enjoy a 30-minute cameo as a substitute – but the two summer signings from the Bundesliga have the quality to make this already-impressive City team even better now that they have shaken off their respective hamstring and knee injuries.
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Sane, 20, was introduced in place of Raheem Sterling against United and showed flashes of his ability on the right wing, the position he was primarily deployed in at Schalke.
He scored eight goals and provided six assists at the Veltins-Arena last term, with his pace making him a potent threat on the counter-attack.
Guardiola, who saw Sane’s performances first-hand during his three-year stint in Germany with Bayern Munich, labelled the youngster a “special talent” after City paid £37 million (Dh179.4m) to bring him to Manchester in the summer.
Gundogan, 25, meanwhile has yet to appear in the Premier League, although the midfielder did excel in Wednesday’s 4-0 Uefa Champions League victory over Borussia Monchengladbach.
Signed for £20m at the start of June, Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp once described the midfielder, who played under him at Borussia Dortmund, as a “complete player”.
The question for Guardiola is how to fit the two new boys in; after all, it would be a risky move to drastically change a formula which has paid dividends for City in the opening weeks of the new campaign.
The former Barcelona and Bayern coach, however, is much more adaptable than he is often given credit for – although his core principles of ball retention and high pressing are an essential part of his game, he frequently switches formation and approach both within and between matches – and he will probably have a number of different plans up his sleeve for the season ahead.
Slotting in Sane on the right when Sterling is rested or unfit may seem like a simple enough switch, but it could have repercussions for the team as a whole.
The left-footer tends to cut infield onto his stronger side, and if the right-footed Nolito continues to be used on the opposite flank City’s shape would be far narrower than their manager usually likes.
This in turn could see the full-backs forced to overlap rather than tuck into midfield in possession as they have done at times this term, a change which would also affect the attacking freedom afforded to David Silva and Kevin De Bruyne.
The two No 10s have been used in slightly deeper positions so far – De Bruyne has described the pair as “free eight[s]” – with Fernandinho stationed behind them in a 4-1-4-1 configuration.
The introduction of Gundogan, often employed as a deep-lying playmaker at Dortmund, to the current system was initially expected to come at the Brazilian’s expense, but he instead played in Silva’s role against Monchengladbach and may actually be viewed as an alternative to the Spain international and De Bruyne.
Such selection issues, though, are positive problems to have. City have been impressive in the Premier League up to now, and the fact that two of their biggest summer signings have still not started a game is a very worrying thought for the division’s 19 other teams.
West Ham’s home issues
It has not been the start West Ham United would have wanted. Ahead of Saturday’s meeting with West Bromwich Albion, Slaven Bilic’s charges find themselves 17th in the early Premier League standings after three defeats from four.
Perhaps more significantly, though, there have been several teething problems at their new home, with many supporters growing increasingly critical of the club’s decision to relocate to the London Stadium.
The 60,000-capacity ground was opened in 2011 as the main stadium for the following year’s Olympic Games, with West Ham then securing a 99-year lease in 2013.
While there was plenty of initial reluctance to the prospect of leaving the historic Upton Park, most fans recognised the numerous long-term benefits that moving to the third-biggest club-occupied football arena in the country would bring – particularly as the east London side are paying just £2.5m in annual rent and are having many of the running costs, including security, pitch maintenance and the provision of goalposts and corner flags, funded by the taxpayer.
To say West Ham have encountered a few issues in their first four weeks at the London Stadium would be an understatement.
There has been crowd trouble at both Premier League home matches against Bournemouth and Watford, with the influx of new season ticket holders seeming to have grated with some of the club’s more long-standing fans, while many have complained about a lack of atmosphere and poor visibility from their seats.
Although joint chairman David Gold insisted this week that the problems will be resolved, there is still work to be done before the move can be considered a success.
The match may be taking place almost 150 miles away from the London Stadium, but a victory against West Brom at The Hawthorns on Saturday would certainly help to lift the mood around the club.
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Published: September 16, 2016 04:00 AM