While Pep Guardiola might well be pleased with how new signing Rodri has fared on this part of the trip, he won’t be sad to be leaving China behind
Pep Guardiola has – by all accounts – not enjoyed this trip to Mainland China and losing the Premier League Asia Trophy to Wolves on penalty kicks just about caps it all off.
He was said to be unhappy with his club’s planned trip to the Middle Kingdom right from the get go, with his experience in the International Champions Cup during his first summer with City colouring his expectations for the trip.
Back then it was a saturated and boggy pitch in Beijing which saw the Manchester derby against United rained off which got up his nose. It reportedly put him off wanting to visit this part of the world for pre-season, given there has been an occasional proneness to heavy rains as well as the constant, energy-sapping humidity to contend with.
It doesn’t take long moving in this weather for a film of sweat to form, and Pep revealed to the press on Friday that it had restricted his side’s ability to train effectively. Once you combine that with the trouble City had in even getting here – ultimately seeing their arrival delayed by around 48 hours due to two administrative errors – and you get to the root of Pep’s grumpiness.
That setback meant City were dealing with jet lag far closer to game time than any of the other teams here, including Newcastle and West Ham, who were defeated by City in Nanjing on Wednesday.
They had no trouble in taking the Hammers apart from the moment David Silva knocked them level, but here in Shanghai Shenhua Greenland’s stadium they had far more difficulty in conjuring up the finishes to set the sides apart.
With Sergio Aguero and Gabriel Jesus two significant absentees from this pre-season trip – which now moves to Hong Kong and Japan – Guardiola took the opportunity to seek solutions up front from elsewhere.
He has the confidence that Raheem Sterling can eventually learn the trade and the England man starred in that position in Nanjing, scoring twice from the bench. And during his 45 minutes here, he found his way onto through balls and made life tough for Wolves’ three central defenders thanks to his ability to break the lines.
The end of last season came with Sterling’s stated aims to get among City’s penalty takers in order to boost his goal tally and he could not have had a better chance to stake a claim for that job than he did here. After it was won by Leroy Sane, Sterling instead ballooned his effort high over Rui Patricio’s crossbar.
That inconsistency in front of goal might give Pep pause for thought given they play Liverpool in only two weeks in the Community Shield and the Copa America contingent not expected back.
And Sane’s own indifferent form continues. He was given the starting shirt here after coming off the bench in Nanjing. The winning of the penalty will be welcomed but elsewhere he was loose in possession and uncertain which way to go at the end of his dribbles.
He has the air of a man who has been desperate to impress, but the harder he tries the more he loses the natural rhythms of his game. He still has plenty of work to do to win the manager over, Bayern Munich links notwithstanding, and fared poorly in his few minutes up top after the break.
Pep will be more pleased by how Rodri Hernandez has fared on this leg of the trip. He has started twice and taken to life in the City midfield with relish. He understands Pep’s demands well already and will provide a sure-footed presence in the centre of the field next season.
City’s other summer signing – Angelino – has some way to go however. He was a second-half replacement for Oleksandr Zinchenko but the Ukrainian would not appear to be under much pressure for his position from the ex-PSV defender as yet.
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Angelino was one of the players singled out for a one-on-one masterclass after the game by Guardiola, who energetically went through parts of the Spaniard’s game with him on the field after the result was decided. Lukas Nmecha – the one who missed the last penalty – was the other.
If the penalty miss was up for discussion, then Pep might want to talk to Ilkay Gundogan as well as David Silva. Two of City’s senior stars were sent forward for spot-kicks and each missed. It was a wasteful end to a frustrating evening and a frustrating tour overall truth be told.
While Nuno Espirito Santo celebrated to the strains of Hi Ho Wolverhampton , City’s players made their way to the small section in the stadium containing the local support. They clapped the fans and exited the pitch, the stadium, and the mainland.