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Guardiola has enviable options but Manchester City’s flaws on flanks | Ed Aarons | Football


How exactly do you beat a team like Manchester City? It’s a conundrum that has outfoxed all but a select group of managers over this and the previous two seasons as Pep Guardiola’s side have swept all before them, with only Jürgen Klopp, José Mourinho, Maurizio Sarri, Claude Puel, Roy Hodgson and Rafael Benítez having tasted victory against them in the Premier League since August 2018.

Yet while his battling side ended up becoming the 67th victims of Guardiola’s unrelenting machine in the league since then, Eddie Howe’s approach to tackling the champions will at least have given some of their title rivals some reasons for optimism. Since being promoted in 2015, Bournemouth have now lost all nine of their top-flight matches against City, conceding 28 goals and scoring only four, but Howe will know that it could easily have been very different this time had either Ederson or Kyle Walker been shown a red card in the first half.

The goalkeeper’s rush of blood in which he took out Callum Wilson with a flying boot came just after Walker was shown a yellow card for clattering Nathan Aké, with the England defender lucky to have escaped a booking for another dubious challenge moments earlier. Sergio Agüero’s opening goal soon after underlined City’s ruthlessness but the way Bournemouth’s all-action approach unnerved their opponents will not have gone unnoticed.

In particular, Walker and his fellow full-back Oleksandr Zinchenko found themselves caught out of position on several occasions in the first half as Wilson and Josh King utilised the full width of the pitch, capitalising on the spaces behind the City full-backs. With João Cancelo – the £60m signing from Juventus – coming off the bench late on to make his debut, the pressure has been on both to maintain their first-choice status and on this evidence it appears that the Ukrainian could be most at risk.

Cancelo is capable of playing on either flank and despite the Portugal international’s undoubted ability in attack that saw him provide the cross that was mis-hit into Agüero’s path by Kevin De Bruyne, Zinchenko’s lack of pace was exposed by Bournemouth on several occasions. Signed as an attacking midfielder in 2016 for only £1m, the 22-year-old won all 14 league matches he featured in last season and has become something of a lucky charm for Guardiola. But with Benjamin Mendy now back in training and another new arrival in the form of the Spaniard Angeliño also providing competition, his days may well be numbered.



David Silva is congratulated by Pep Guardiola at the end of the match. The Spanish playmaker is another whose departure will mean a transition period for Manchester City. Photograph: Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

Walker has plenty of credit in the bank having been one of City’s most consistent performers in the two title-winning seasons, even if he still occasionally looks vulnerable to a clanger. The same can be said for Nicolás Otamendi, whose inexplicable decision to chest the ball perfectly into the path of Bournemouth’s Adam Smith just before half-time should have resulted in an equaliser had it not been for the brilliance of Ederson.

Alongside the composed Aymeric Laporte, the Argentina international is an adequate replacement for Vincent Kompany yet has none of the former captain’s composure and ability to read the game – attributes that will be sorely missed when it comes to the crunch this season.

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For most sides, the long-term injury to a player of Leroy Sané’s quality would also be keenly felt but the versatility of Bernardo Silva has allowed Guardiola to restrict an in-form Riyad Mahrez to cameos from the bench so far. And then there is David Silva. In his 400th appearance for the club, the veteran Spaniard made the difference when it mattered most with a brilliant through ball for Raheem Sterling for the second goal before setting up the decisive third for Agüero just when it looked like Bournemouth might find a way back into the game. “It’s not the first time he has scored goals,” Guardiola said of the Argentina striker, who now has moved within seven of Thierry Henry in fourth place in the all-time Premier League goalscorer chart with 168.

Just as impressively, Silva has provided 85 assists since he joined from Valencia in 2010 and remains the heartbeat of this side despite his advancing years. Guardiola’s decision to rest him in the draw against Tottenham last week eventually paid off but he will know that, at 33, he cannot be relied on every week. Like Kompany, his proposed departure next summer will not be an easy transition. But then this City side always tends to take everything in their stride.



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