Continuing to make the most of SB Nation’s extensive network of Premier League sites, we’ve been in touch with Renato Gonçalves of Manchester City blog Bitter and Blue ahead of this weekend’s Manchester derby. Here are our questions, and his answers:
tBB: Obviously the biggest change at City this summer has been the arrival of Pep Guardiola, whose style of football is notoriously difficult to master. How have the team adapted so far?
RG: Pep Guardiola's style is so unique and so complex that it'd be shocking if the team adapted quickly. Which is why I'm shocked to see the team has adapted quickly. City are obviously a long way from playing exactly like Pep wants, but the level of offense displayed in just 45 days of Pep has been impressive. Fernandinho and David Silva have been especially great in the middle, and since Pep values wingers so much, it's no surprise that Sterling and Nolito have played such great football so far. Pep repeatedly said the team is much better than he expected it to be at this point, and it's very true.
tBB: Your midfield seems wonderfully creative, but is perhaps a little lightweight for the more difficult, physical contests. Would you like to see any changes made?
RG: No, and that is because I trust Pep's style completely. He won't trade his ideas for results, and he has proven time and time again that his ideas actually lead to good results. Fernandinho, Silva and De Bruyne aren't really physical and it doesn't seem like a good idea to use those guys to clash with Fellaini, Pogba and Rooney. But that's the beauty of this Derby: styles make fights. Mourinho is the brutally efficient manager who likes to win physical football matches. Pep is the idealist that wants to have 11 short midfielders on his team and actually win games that way. He has won games that way, so would he change it?
tBB: How big a blow is Sergio Agüero's suspension, and do you think he'll be replaced by Kelechi Iheanacho or someone else?
RG: Agüero's suspension would be a bigger blow if this was still Manuel Pellegrini's side. Once again I come back to the genius of Guardiola, but he has dealt with important injuries in big games throughout his career and always finds great alternatives. You obviously want the best striker in the Premier League on your team, but Pep already has a plan to cope with his absence. Iheanacho sounds like the easiest answer, which is why I'm not sure Pep will use it. I'm betting on another player in midfield (maybe Gündoğan or Sané), with Nolito moving up front as a False Nine and having good passers all over the pitch to keep possession as much as possible, even at Old Trafford. I think we will see Iheanacho on the game at some point, but I'm not too confident on his starting place. Pep has a master plan, and Iheanacho is too easy of a plan. Especially for Mourinho.
tBB: Are there any real weak spots in City's lineup you feel United could exploit? Similarly, where do you feel City could do real damage?
RG: The full-backs, definitely. You just can't trust any of Zabaleta, Sagna or Clichy. Kolarov is basically a center-back now, but he might start on the flanks and has to be added to this list. Mkhitaryan/Mata/Martial will surely create havoc on the wings, and Valencia's overlapping runs are definitely a concern against either Clichy or Kolarov. But Valencia is also a potential weak spot that Pep will exploit. Guardiola's tactics are designed to leave his winger one-on-one against the full-back, and thanks to Sterling's great form, he'll probably start on the left and just go at it against Antonio for 90 minutes. That should be fun.
tBB: And finally, a prediction!
RG: It's Mourinho vs Guardiola, so it will be a spectacular tactical battle with not a lot of goals. I'll go with a 1-1 draw, unless Mark Clattenburg gives Jose some Fergie Time and then we all know what's gonna happen.
Many thanks to Renato for answering our questions. Be sure to check out Bitter and Blue for our answers to his questions shortly.