At Manchester City, it was an interesting weekend. On Saturday, Nolito was shown around the club’s Etihad Stadium after completing his £13.8 million move from Celta Vigo.
One had to crack a wry smile when the Spanish winger asked if the club always packs out their home, only to be greeted with an awkward response.
A day later and it was the turn of the man who signed him for City, new manager Pep Guardiola, to have his grand unveiling, meeting 6,000 fans in a question and answer session outside the Etihad.
Never far from the cameras when it comes to City, Oasis frontman Noel Gallagher managed to get himself involved, strangely enough becoming the first person to interview the Catalan since becoming City manager.
It was here where it became most intriguing. “I will have to learn, lean how we are going to play. But I have learned in Germany so why not here?” Guardiola said, making it clear that he held no preconceptions of how his team would play and immediately putting to bed any remaining assumption the Spaniard will arrive in England as a Tiki-Taka devotee unwilling to deviate from his beliefs that were embedded at Barcelona.
“They have told me it is so hard, so tough and the people say ‘Pep is not going to be able to adapt’, so that’s why I’m here: to try and do it”, Guardiola added, with his time at Bayern Munich, where he dominated the German domestic scene with a multi-faceted machine that he built to be comfortable in a variety of different styles, also an indication that City have appointed a manager carrying as much excitement for what he expects to learn in England as the City fans are keen to see him prowling the dugout.
Indications of Guardiola’s game-plan
Guardiola’s signings so far give a hint to how his team will play.
The £20 million capture of Ilkay Gundogan from Borussia Dortmund, a step in the opposite direction from the stampeding power and bustle of Yaya Toure, suggests he will seek control in midfield while Nolito, schooled in the Guardiola system having been handed his first-team debut at Barcelona under the Catalan coach in 2010, will be accustomed to the intense pressing he expects in the final third.
Even with the array of glittering talent he had at his disposal at the Nou Camp Guardiola was keen to keep the winger but Nolito opted to join Benfica before he moved to Celta Vigo where he established himself as one of La Liga’s most dangerous left-wingers.
Nolito played under Luis Enrique and Eduardo Berizzo in Galicia, two coaches immersed in the Guardiola way of high-pressing, quick possession football, and seems ready-made for what the Catalan intends to do in Manchester.
Usually at home on the left, carrying his main threat from cutting inside onto his right foot and linking up with the main attacker, it is uncertain what that will mean for Raheem Sterling, the £49 million man who started last season on the left for City, and Samir Nasri, who ended it there.
Sterling has endured a decline in from, and a crash in confidence, since suffering an injury in the Manchester derby in March, evident by his listless performances for England at Euro 2016 which Guardiola felt the need to personally intervene by telephoning the winger whilst he was in France.
The Catalan clearly has faith in the 21 year old having, in effect, sanctioned the big-money move for him whilst he was still managing Bayern, so it appears unlikely that Nolito will immediately phase him out.
Guardiola is too much of an assiduous coach to give up on players before giving himself a chance to see what they can offer, so it may not be the case that Jesus Navas’s time is up yet despite three forgettable seasons in Manchester in which he has done little of significance.
A straight-lines player who carries a usually woeful end-product, Navas is as far-removed from a Guardiola player as can be imagined, so it may be the case that Sterling is positioned on the right, ahead of Navas, or even centrally, with Kevin De Bruyne on the opposite flank to Nolito.
Navas’s electric pace may be an asset to Guardiola however if he is looking to carry a threat on the counter attack, so it may make sense to position the 30 year old centrally in support of Sergio Aguero to take advantage of his movement.
Nolito, De Bruyne and a resurgent Sterling will offer the raw speed and incisive play that Guardiola craves around a liberated striker, while Nasri and David Silva can be called upon if creative guile is required to unlock tight defences.
Nolito scored 39 goals in 103 appearances for Celta, scoring twelve goals last term in a campaign that culminated in a call-up to Spain’s squad for Euro 2016, where he played in all four of his country’s matches.
The 29 year old struggled to have an influence in matches with Croatia and Spain but his goal against Turkey in the group stage rout was typical Nolito, drifting into space from the left, linking up the play before cutting into the box to seize on chances.
For £14 million, it represents a bargain for Guardiola and City who have added a player already accustomed to the new manager’s demands.
All of City’s attacking line will each have their chance to earn Guardiola’s faith, “as long as you work for me, I will fight for you” as the Catalan reminded Sterling, but whatever combination he uses to fit in around Nolito, they will be armed with a breath-taking threat.
Written by Adam Gray
Follow Adam on Twitter @AdamGray1250
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