Saturday, 27 July 2019

Pep Guardiola's players have barely slept during treacherous Asia tour

Pep Guardiola stood between his two central defenders on a baking hot evening in Hong Kong last week, barking instructions as he directed the traffic in front of him.

His players were practising progressing upfield. Guardiola was in amongst it as they built attacks, enthused at what he witnessed. The arms were waving, training was regularly stopped. The squad were probably happy for the breathers in 35-degree heat.

There has been no great reinvention of Guardiola's Manchester City this summer, obviously no changing of basic principles or ideas, but subtle tweaks are arriving as they strive to palm off the chasing pack once again. They were becoming clearer against Yokohama F.Marinos in front of 65,052 fans on Saturday.

The £62.8million capture of Rodri from Atletico Madrid appears pivotal here, with the midfield three asked to rotate more often during the 3-1 victory over their City Football Group sister club. Kevin De Bruyne was everywhere; David Silva almost an auxiliary striker alongside Raheem Sterling for much of the friendly coined the EuroJapan Cup.

Mikel Arteta pays particular attention to Rodri during training, telling him to leave his anchor, to go and attack spaces. It is not something he is used to and that will take some adapting. A work-in-progress and one that will be allowed time, given Fernandinho is returning from the Copa America.

The idea behind this tweak must be to best utilise Kevin De Bruyne, who has been a man possessed for the last fortnight. He started popping up in unnatural positions at the Nissan Stadium, bringing about his 18th-minute goal when drifting in from the right and thundering home on his left foot thanks to Claudio Bravo's pinpoint pass and Bernardo Silva's ingenuity.

De Bruyne's freer role — he was also seen alongside or behind Rodri when certain occasions dictated — is probably one Guardiola wanted to cultivate last season, plagued by the Belgian's injuries. De Bruyne, who recouped on family holidays to Greece and Turkey over the summer, missed more days injured than in his entire career.


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