Man City midfielder might be the answer to Pep Guardiola’s transfer conundrum – Charlotte Duncker
“Maybe zero, maybe one, maybe one and a half,” Guardiola replied when asked if City would be buying anybody else.
One and a half. The City manager had a smirk on his face when he said it but the form of Kevin de Bruyne at the minute could nearly go half way to acting as a new signing. The Belgian only made 11 starts in the Premier League last season after an injury plagued campaign but his form going into the new season will excite the City manager.
Making his third start of the tour against Yokohama F. Marinos in the 3-1 win it was the Belgian yet again who ran the show in the middle of the park for the Blues. Man of the match against Wolves and the standout performer against Kitchee in Hong Kong the 28-year-old ensured he put on a show for the 65,000 fans packed into the Nissan Stadium in Yokohama on Saturday night.
It took just eight minutes for De Bruyne to play one of those exceptional passes he has the ability to pick out. A slick one touch passing move started at the back by Aleks Zinchenko created one of City’s first chances of the game as De Bruyne found Bernardo out on the right but his curling cross wasn’t met by anyone else.
Minutes later it was another divine ball by the Belgium to Raheem Sterling who was denied by Gyu Park rushing out of his box to intercept. The Yokohama goalkeeper made Claudio Bravo’s risky keeping look meek as three times in the opening 45 he rushed way out of his area to clear.
And it was the midfielder who got City’s opener in the 18th minute. A move started by Bravo with a long ball over the top to Bernardo who controlled it perfectly before darting into the box to lay it off for De Bruyne who fired past the goalkeeper at his near post.
While City had dominated the opening exchanges it didn’t take long for the hosts to reply. In the 23rd minute the Japanese side, who are halfway through their season, levelled through Keita Endo who tapped in from close range after Bravo twice denied the hosts.
Another moment of De Bruyne brilliance ensured City took the lead again before the break when he hit a perfectly weighted ball to Sterling who charged into the area and finished with a right footed shot past Park in the Yokohama net.
Before the game Guardiola had declared this would be City’s toughest test of the tour and the ‘perfect preparation’ for playing Liverpool in the Community Shield next week. It is likely to be the XI who started in Japan on Saturday night that line up against Jurgen Klopp‘s side and Guardiola will be hoping for a more assured performance from his back line at Wembley.
The City manager may have being slightly polite when he was sat next to Yokohama manager Ange Postecoglou when he declared Saturday’s final tour game as an ‘incredible test’ but the concern for the Spaniard is that his defence were caught out on more than one occassion by the Japanese side through poor positioning and runs in behind City’s back line. John Stones was steady but the usually solid Aymeric Laporte looked sloppy and as a unit they didn’t look secure.
Guardiola was angered by Walker’s positioning and contribution in the first half and he berated him during the first water break of the game. The right-back set the tone for his performance in the second minute when he miscontrolled the ball and needed De Bruyne to bail him out. The England defender could have slightly redeemed himself in the second half when he pulled the ball back for Sterling to score a second, but he was denied by the flag.
While Guardiola has made a big number of changes at half time in the other three games on tour he waited until shortly before the hour mark before introducing Ilkay Gundogan and Phil Foden for Leroy Sane and David Silva. Foden was given his second run out of the tour, having joined up with the squad in Hong Kong after his break following the Under-21 European Champions, and could have capped off his cameo with a goal only to be denied by Park.
City’s defence was nearly undone again when a cross into the area managed to narrowly miss the Yokohama players who were ready waiting for a tap in and seconds later it was Bravo to the rescue as he got down to save from Yuki Otsu who shot past a bystanding Laporte.
The final exchanges of the game allowed a few more minutes for youngsters Lukas Nmecha, Ian Poveda and Adrian Bernabe and City finished the game with just four of the starting XI left on the pitch. And it was two of the youngsters who were involved in City’s third. A good cross from Bernabe was bundled into the back of the net by Nmecha.
Job done for City and back to Manchester for Guardiola and the squad as they prepare to face Liverpool in what is sure to be a bigger test than anything they’ve faced in Asia.