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11 May, 2021 - 08:00pm
Manchester City are Premier League champions for the third time in four years.
Pep Guardiola’s side lifted their seventh ever top-flight title after closest challengers Man Utd fell to defeat against Leicester on Tuesday, making it their fifth triumph in the modern era.
The Spaniard lost his grip on the trophy to Liverpool last season but he and his team have emphatically taken it back over the course of 2020/21, which included a remarkable sequence of 15 successive league wins stretching from December to March.
The Citizens looked to need somewhat of a rebuild after their disappointing previous campaign, in which they finished 18 points behind Jurgen Klopp’s men, but with just a few tinkers, Guardiola has grasped top spot again along with reaching a first Champions League final for the club.
But how has he done it?
Here are five changes that Pep Guardiola made to make Manchester City champions again.
Okay, this is an easy one.
Having not replaced the presence of Vincent Kompany following his departure in 2019, Guardiola and co needed a new man to lead the back line.
City spent £65m and sent Nicolas Otamendi the other way to bring Dias to East Manchester from Benfica, and the 23-year-old has been nothing short of a revelation at the heart of defence.
Mirroring Virgil van Dijk’s effect at Anfield, the centre-back’s partnership with John Stones (more on him soon) has often been impenetrable, ranking joint-top of the Premier League table for clean sheets - 18 along with Chelsea - and conceding just 26 goals, six better than the Blues in second for that metric.
A human brick wall at times, Dias has been a foundation to build on this campaign and contributes in attack, too, playing 3.6 long balls per-90 minutes and averaging a stunning 93.3% passing accuracy.
Considered rash during his time in his native Portugal, his composure is a joy to watch from a defensive standpoint, and has proven Pep right to sign the born leader to shore up the rear guard.
This time last year, you wouldn’t be a fool for thinking Stones’ time at the Etihad was coming to an end.
Signed from Everton in 2016 for £47.5m, his minutes diminished to a personal Premier League low of just 1,118 last term and reports of an exit were rife.
This season, though, he’s managed to oust both Aymeric Laporte and summer signing Nathan Ake to rack up almost double that figure.
Stones has his swagger back and has made an impact at both ends, winning 1.7 aerial duels per-90 and matching partner Dias for pass success rate.
The Barnsley youth product has also chipped in with four goals, pleasing plenty of fantasy football managers as well as his own.
Set for a start alongside Harry Maguire in England’s EURO 2020 defence this summer, Stones has had quite the turnaround.
German efficiency and footballing success go hand in hand, but City’s midfield maestro has been somewhat of a peripheral player in his time at the club - until this season.
Bagging 12 goals in league play (a career best for a senior campaign), the consistent availability of defensive-minded duo Fernandinho and Rodri have allowed Guardiola to deploy Gundogan further forward, rather than as a deep-lying playmaker.
The former Barcelona boss once alluded to the ex-Borussia Dortmund star playing in the ‘false nine’ role and many baulked at the suggestion.
Dispatching strikes for fun at the turn of the year, Gundogan was able to adequately replace the goal output when the likes of Kevin De Bruyne and Sergio Aguero were injured.
It may have taken a few years, but the classy no. 8 is an essential member of the City machine.
Someone else who has been integral to why City have scored a division-best 72 goals is academy graduate Foden.
The Stockport-born starlet isn’t the archetypal English midfielder, and that’s what makes him so special.
Netting seven goals and five assists, his role as a wide forward or very advanced attacking midfielder has proved profitable for Guardiola on various occasions.
Foden makes 1.3 key passes each top-flight outing, supplementing 1.3 dribbles throughout his 26 Premier League appearances, which is his most to date.
His performance away to Liverpool in February encapsulated how far he and City had improved from last time around, as Foden ran the show against their foes.
The sky’s the limit for the 20-year-old, and the Sky Blues have finally made the most of him after a few years as a frequent benchwarmer.
A staple of Guardiola’s side this season has been their lack of a by-trade number nine in starting XIs.
Aguero has spent most of the season sidelined, while Gabriel Jesus has made eight less appearances than in 19/20 and will have to feature in their remaining three to match his two other full top-flight terms in England.
Jesus started just one of City’s six Champions League knockout ties (the round-of-16 first leg away to Borussia Monchengladbach), signifying Guardiola’s preference of playing either Foden, De Bruyne or Bernardo Silva as the false nine to add more pressing intensity.
Summer signing Ferran Torres - who’s considered a winger - has even featured centrally four times in the league, partially a result of Aguero’s long-term absence and Riyad Mahrez’s marvellous displays.
]Jesus, 24, has even operated out wide on three occasions, and although Guardiola regularly rotates, the Brazilian has only managed 60% of available minutes for his side this campaign.
Scoring 115 goals in all competitions throughout 20/21 means putting the ball in the back of the net has been no problem, but that hasn’t stopped City from being linked to the likes of Erling Haaland and Harry Kane.
If either of them rocks up at the Etihad this summer, spare a thought for Premier League defences as Guardiola looks to retain the title once again.
11 May, 2021 - 04:21pm
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The veteran Brazil midfielder — who joined City in 2013 — was handed the armband at the start of the season.
And he will lift the trophy in front of his team-mates and 10,000 fans when they face Everton at the Etihad on the final day of the season a week on Sunday.
And six days after that Fernandinho’s team face another huge date when they play Chelsea in their first Champions League final.
The former Shakhtar Donetsk man lifted the Carabao Cup at Wembley last month but insists Pep Guardiola’s relentless title heroes are not finished yet.
Brazilian Fernandinho, 36, said: “I am so proud and so happy with what we have achieved. The Premier League is the hardest league in world football – every single game is tough.
“To win it again means the world to me and the rest of the squad.
“We will enjoy this moment and we hope the fans do too.
“But rest assured we will continue to do everything we can to bring the Champions League home this season.”
Fernandinho is out of contract in the summer and plans to start contract talks with the club over an extension early in June.
He took over the armband from David Silva – who had it for just one season following the departure of Vincent Kompany.
And Fernandinho revealed recently how he called a team-meeting in the New Year to get their season firmly back on track.
It clearly worked as they won the title with three games to spare and Fernandinho said: “To captain this team is an honour and a privilege because the players have given their all throughout season, whether in training or in matches. “
Guardiola spoke of the difficulties caused by the pandemic this season and his captain revealed how everyone has pulled together in adversity.
He added: “The teamwork has been amazing.
“Football is everything to us and we strive every single day to be as good as we can be in the hope we can bring success to Manchester City.
“Winning the Premier League title is the ultimate fulfilment of our ambitions. It’s what we all dreamed of as young players, so to do it is a wonderful feeling.”
There were no signs on social media that City’s stars had rounded for a title party like Liverpool did last year.
But Aymeric Laporte posted a photo on social media of himself celebrating with team-mate Rodri after Leicester’s win of Manchester United sealed their title.
And after City’s success, Raheem Sterling tweeted: “What’s that smell?”
Referring to City fans’ song about himself, the England ace added: “It’s that time of the year ... #hestopoftheleague.”
City talisman Kevin De Bruyne tweeted three trophy emojis after his third Prem title, adding: “Another One.”
Boyhood City fan Phil Foden added: “Proud to be a part of this team.”
Midfielder Ilkay Gundogan shared an old picture of himself with Leicester matchwinner Caglar Soyuncu, adding: “Thank you brother.
“Champions of England... again. I would have prefered to celebrate this moment after our own game, but I take it anyway. What a season!”
Kyle Walker added: “Such an honour to be a part of this incredible team. Well done boys!”
Departing striker Sergio Aguero, who overtakes David Silva to become City’s most decorated player with 15 trophies, tweeted: “Proud of this team! Five #PremierLeague titles.”
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