Manchester City's 'incredible level' gives Pep Guardiola expectation even better times are ahead
Manager delighted with performance against Tottenham Hotspur, even if it did not end in a win
The bare facts are that Manchester City were only 16 points away from a perfect campaign last season and just 14 in the previous year.
Two games into the current campaign and two have escaped their grasp already.
Yet Pep Guardiola, the perfectionist forever seeking improvement, believes he saw it in last week’s 2-2 draw against Tottenham Hotspur.
“The way we played against Tottenham showed we can do better than last season,” said the Manchester City manager.
He has always been concerned about the process as well as the outcome and felt the performance was superior on Saturday than in February’s 6-0 thrashing of Chelsea.
“The Tottenham game was better than Chelsea. Last year we arrive the first five times at goal and we score four but the way we played [against Spurs] was better.
"It is impossible to sustain every three days playing the way we played against Tottenham but the level was incredible.”
That, more than City’s track record of securing silverware, gives him optimism. “The way we play is always the signal,” Guardiola explained. “That is the signal if the team is team is alive or not, not the titles we won in the past.”
If one reason why excellence against Champions League finalists produced a solitary point was that, via VAR, Gabriel Jesus had a winner disallowed, another was that 30 shots only resulted in two goals.
Guardiola was unconcerned about the profligacy of a team who scored 169 times last season in all competitions.
“When you look at all the goals we've scored in the last two seasons I don't think you can say there are any doubts about us being able to score,” he added.
“We don't have two incredible players like Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi who scored 50 or 60 goals a season but despite that we score incredible amount of goals.”
Raheem Sterling may not be at that dominant duo’s level but he has become sufficiently prolific that he has scored 53 goals since the start of the 2017-18 campaign.
Five have come in the first three of this, which Guardiola attributed to the elusive Englishman’s movement.
“Normally for wingers to score goals is not easy because they tend to be further away from the goals but he moves from side to side,” he said.
“He has an incredible sense of getting into the box with the right tempo and score when the ball is coming from the opposite side. He is fantastic at that.”
City visit Bournemouth, the scene of one of Sterling’s most significant goals, today.
Two years ago, as now they had drawn their first home game of the campaign and ventured south for their third fixture.
Sterling’s 97th-minute decider brought the first of 18 straight wins to kick-start two seasons of success.
“It was so important that goal, definitely,” Guardiola said. “Sometimes in the beginning of the season there are moments that are important for the mood and the rhythm, because I remember we came from a draw with Everton.
"Our first season was not good at home after that came Everton and after [Bournemouth] came Liverpool at home and you know what happens about rumours and doubts in the players’ minds. We beat them and then the rhythm arrived.”
Bournemouth could have a different kind of significance now if Benjamin Mendy makes his comeback after a knee problem.
The left-back has been limited to 14 league starts in two injury-hit seasons in Manchester but Guardiola is in no doubt he can transform his City career.
“If Benjamin is fit, he will have success,” he said.
“He has a special quality. He is working incredibly like an animal and his training is good.”
Updated: August 26, 2019 05:13 AM