Manchester City edged out fierce rival Liverpool to win Community Shield at Wembley on Sunday. If not for anything, the victory is indicative of their push to dominate Europe this season again, writes JAMES OJO.
No Leroy Sane, no problem. It would have been a different mood at Wembley on Sunday had it been Mohammed Salah or Roberto Firmino.
As Sane trudged off the pitch, Guardiola whinged and boiled with fury. Every coach would have done same. For City, there was hardly much to lose sleep over, though.
They had Gabriel Jesus jogging up for replacement. There was also Sergio Aguero on the bench. Either of them possesses same intensity of threat to any opposition as the departing Sane.
This has always been Pep Guardiola’s master plan.
Guardiola loves to win. His famous stints at Barcelona and the Bayern Munich are glaring testimonies of his penchant to remain on the winning side. In pursuant of this ideology, the City gaffer has never shy of spending big when it mattered most.
Manchester City’s depth of squad arguably remain their greatest strength over other teams in the English Premier League. Sunday’s display by Guardiola’s army was again symptomatic of a side obsessed with winning trophies.
He did that in Barcelona and Bayern Munich and at City, he’s stretching the record further. This is not to say huge spending is synonymous with winning trophies. The Paris Saint-German and Neymar experiment is a good example.
Still, nothing trumps huge spending matched optimum utilization of acquired talents. This, perhaps, has been Guardiola’s strength as a coach. He knows the right players to execute his plans and would go any length to get them.
The ripple effect of such philosophy has been amazing. At City for instance, he’s had massive transformation. His depth of squad allows him to rotate players, provides for flexibility of tactics and above all, ignites competition among players, which are all essential to the club’s dominance last season.
The same can hardly be said of Liverpool. The absence of Sadio Mane on Sunday was glaring, as Divock Origi who replaced him in attack struggled to make impact. This is not to suggest Liverpool are no title contenders this season, or in no position to fight to retain their European crown.
They could as have won Sunday’s clash in the second half had Salah particularly not been wasteful.
However, their silence in the transfer market so far could hunt them greatly as the season unfolds. It is arguable that their Champions League glory last season owe much to luck than tactics or depth of squad.
Their fairytale against Barcelona, if stretched, provides good premise for debate. Without Salah or Firmino, they were clearly underdogs against a highly-motivated Barcelona side, who were visiting Anfield after pummeling Klopp’s men 3-0 at Camp Nou earlier.
That night, Origi did the unbelievable. How far they can ride on luck this season again remains largely unseen, given their deadly triumvirate attack of Salah, Firmino and Mane is unlikely to maintain 100 per cent fitness throughout the season. Of course, there is likely to be injury, suspension or even fatigue which could greatly hunt them.
Guardiola would be less disturbed here, given his quality of players on his bench. Chelsea, Arsenal, Manchester United and Tottenham are no pushovers in the battle for the 2019-2020 season. Yet, there is a great feeling that they are unlikely to halt City’s dominance this season.
Sunday’s Community Shield victory only passes a message across: Guardiola’s City are not done winning yet. At least, they are likely to repeat last season’s streak again, if not surpass it.