WEDNESDAY’S BIG STORIES

Man City 2.0 set for a period of unparalleled dominance

Manchester City - like all of Pep Guardiola's teams - had a fundamental weakness. In certain situations against certain teams, they struggled to defend - and that weakness can only be addressed by a very specific type of player. The basics of Guardiola's football exposes his defenders to covering large swathes of the pitch, as detailed in great depth here. Perhaps not as consistently as it once did, but that weakness in the system remains.
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However, in Ruben Dias and John Stones, Guardiola has found a pairing that are comfortable defending large areas. A football team, at a base level, is a set of relationships - often pairs - working in tandem. Having centre-halves willing and able to defend high and against lots of space has impacts elsewhere on the pitch - sometimes on a subconscious level.
Take for example City's first goal against PSG in their 2-0 win. Had Nicolas Otamendi, Eric García or even Aymeric Laporte been stationed inside of Oleksandr Zinchenko, would the confidence have been there to push as high? There was a substantial risk that Ederson’s pass would not meet its intended target. And before Dias and Stones formed this partnership it was open to serious debate whether the previous central defensive partnerships – some of which admittedly contained Stones – could mitigate that risk. They can now, it seems. This is not to undermine Stones’ role in City’s improved ability in these areas. He now has a partner that accentuates his strengths and masks his weaknesses. The same applies the other way too. There is no doubting, as noted by Graham Ruthven, Dias' impact on this City side, however.
This new-found solidarity should cause worry across Europe. City have mitigated their one targetable weakness without limiting their attacking intent. They are on the cusp of winning the league, have already won the League Cup and are in the final of the Champions League.
They have achieved the above without having a recognised striker for much of the season due to injury or a lack of trust. Therefore, couple their new-found defensive solidarity built on players aged 23 – Dias - and 26 – Stones – with a new forward coming in – reportedly Erling Haaland – and City are ready for a period of unparalleled success.

Riyad Mahrez of Manchester City celebrates his second goal

Image credit: Getty Images

Jose Mourinho to Roma

Jose Mourinho must interview very well. Just weeks after being sacked by Spurs, he is back in football, this time in Serie A with Roma.
This is what Roma general manager Tiago Pinto said after the appointment: "we were blown away by Jose’s desire to win and his passion for the game," began Pinto, before adding the club were "supremely confident he will be the perfect coach for our project, for both our immediate and long-term future".
The passion and desire may very well be there but history dictates the manifestations of that desire is not conducive to a long or medium-term project. Mourinho has always been a short-term coach. Even at his most successful. And that is fine.
However, if Roma have employed Mourinho to guide the club in anything other than the short-term this appointment is misguided. Ultimately, Mourinho's appointment needs to be aligned with a squad on the cusp of success. He needs players entering the prime of their career with the hunger of limited previous successes. This was, to varying extents, the case during his most successful stints at Porto, Chelsea, Inter and Real Madrid.
Are Roma at that stage? Well, their league position these last few years suggest not; they have finished 3rd (17/18), 6th (18/19), 5th (19/20) and are currently 7th. This is a squad in need of regeneration and restructuring. Mourinho has never shown - despite protestations otherwise - a desire or aptitude to be a project coach.

The fragility of excellence

It is widely held that the three elements integral to footballing longevity are talent, application and luck. Ansu Fati has, during his nascent career, shown talent and application in abundance. Luck has, thus far, not been on his side.
The 18-year-old underwent meniscus surgery in November. He was expected to be absent for roughly four months. However, following complications, there is currently no fixed date for his return. Reports are now emerging that Fati will undergo further surgery to remove his meniscus.
It is evidence, if it were ever needed that the career of a professional athlete is fragile. And a reminder to enjoy the talents of players - given the pervasiveness of football coverage - that we sometimes take for granted.

HAT-TIP

Jonathan Liew in the Guardian reflects on the potential consequences of private equity's increasing stake in professional sport.
Private equity feels your pain. Private equity shares your disquiet over the stagnation of traditional media rights and the audiences of the future: these perfidious children with their Twitch and their TikTok and their curious habit of eating detergent pods. But private equity can help. Just sign here, here; here. If the present feels unsettling enough, then perhaps the real question is what follows: the next move in a game where it has already been established that everything is for sale. The FA has already toyed with selling Wembley to plug its financial black hole. What if a big private equity firm comes and offers to buy the FA Cup? What if it wants the right to choose the England manager, or its seat on IFAB, which sets the laws of football? Could we really be certain a weary, cash-strapped organisation would hold firm? Or that we, the fans and consumers, could do anything to prevent it?

COMING UP

Chelsea against Real Madrid in the Champions League for the privilege of losing to Manchester City.
And bringing that news to you will be Andi Thomas, a writer of no weakness.
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