Pep Guardiola’s tenure in the Premier League got off to a slightly shaky start against David Moyes’ Sunderland, but Manchester City ultimately came away with three points to start the season – winning 2-1 at the Etihad.
City made the perfect start to the game, with Raheem Sterling driving into the area in the fourth minute and winning a penalty – which Sergio Aguero dutifully dispatched.
However, while the team from Manchester dominated possession from this moment on, they failed to pile on any real pressure after taking their early lead. Once faced with 11 Sunderland players behind the ball, City lacked the spark of creativity required to break down a resolute and deep defence, and were caught out by the evergreen Jermain Defoe opening his goalscoring account for this season and making it 1-1 with just 19 minutes remaining.
City fans had to wait until the 87th minute to see their team reclaim the lead. A slice of luck was eventually Guardiola’s best ally on the day, with Jesus Navas’ cross being headed in for an own goal by the unlucky Paddy McNair.
Not the most convincing of starts for Manchester City, but a win on the opening day should steady some nerves and lay the groundwork for a strong start to the season.
A man of the match display just when he needed one. It’s imperative for his development that he puts his best foot forward this season under the tenure of Guardiola, and his excellent performance on Saturday will have caught the eye of the Spaniard. Everyone is looking to impress the new manager, but not many needed to do so as emphatically as Sterling – and no one impressed more so than him on Saturday.
The English player was constantly looking to drive with pace at the Sunderland defence, and reaped his reward a mere four minutes into the game by winning the penalty. Coming off the back of a mixed season with Manchester City and a torrid Euro’s with England, Sterling has started the season brightly, and will look to build on Saturday’s success and prove his worth to Guardiola.
The Ivorian had been the subject of transfer speculation in the build up to Saturday’s game and came into the match under more pressure than most. He made good decisions throughout, was commanding in the air, and was not at fault for either of Manchester City’s goals.
His performance didn’t seem to be affected at all by the release of the news that he has handed in a transfer request, and the professionalism he displayed on the pitch will have done much for his reputation. Steady in defence and a threat on offensive set pieces, Everton – who are reportedly interested – will be keen to wrestle him away from Sunderland and their old manager, Moyes.
A slow start for the Frenchman, who didn’t seem confident in the central position that he was asked to play for most of the game. Guardiola’s decision to have his fullbacks push forward and tuck in when City were in possession put Clichy visibly outside his comfort zone. He was somewhat predictable with his distribution and his first touch let him down on more than one occasion – playing in the tight spaces in central midfield is something to which he’ll have to adapt.
It’s telling that the more conservatively deployed Bacary Sagna, playing wider and slightly more like a ‘classic’ full back, had the better game. It looks like Clichy needs more time to get used to his new role in the team.
Patrick van Aanholt
Regrettable that he has to be included on this list, because he played well for periods of the game. Mistakes, however, cost points – and van Aanholt made some crucial ones. Most damaging was his reckless challenge on Raheem Sterling to give away the penalty in the fourth minute. The Dutchman wised up from that point in the game, and had more of a handle on Sterling by the time the English international was switched to play against the other Sunderland fullback, and new signing, Donald Love – but by that point much of the damage had been done.
Potentially at fault for City’s second goal as well, with Jesus Navas’ cross whistling in front of the left back before ricocheting off the unfortunate McNair and into the goal, this was a game to forget for van Aanholt.