The final game of 2017 is upon us and the challenge does not get any easier with Manchester City heading to South London so we had a chat with Richard Burns to find out about their season so far, as if we really needed to know!
Q. What did you make of last season for City?
It was below expectation. We’d had two years of really frustrating regression under Manuel Pellegrini but with Guardiola, there was an instant uplift. We won the first ten games across three competitions, but then it all went to pot and we only confirmed a top four finish on the last day. The Champions League round of sixteen exit to Monaco was a disaster. It was clear Pep did not have the squad to do what he wanted – particularly in the full-back areas and lead to a lot of nonsense calls for him to change his style. We’re seeing now that it was the squad that needed to change, not Pep’s ideas.
Q. What were your hopes for the new season before a ball had been kicked?
This is going to sound twee, but my hope was that it would be enjoyable again. I know how spoilt this makes us sound given the players we have an the regularity that we make the top four, but the last three seasons have not been fun at all. Pellegrini sapped the life out of the club after his first season with boring football and a tactical naiviety that would have seen him out of the door a year earlier, had we not been waiting for Guardiola. Pep has made it fun again – which of course is easy to say when you’re winning every game you play but it’s more than that. The football is entertaining and the work rate is outstanding – there’s something to be interested in again. Beyond that, with what City have available, the hope has to be to win the league and go as deep into every other competition as possible.
Q. The season could not have started any better with many tipping City as title winners already but is there any chinks in the armour that have you at all concerned?
None! I suppose you could argue we have a weakness at defending corners due to a lack of height in comparison to other teams, but I think we’ve just conceded one goal from a set piece all season, so as weaknesses go it’s not exactly a huge concern. We could do with another centre-back as Vincent Kompany is always injured – it looks like we’re going to try and correct that in January.
Q. It has been said that Pep Guardiola is a manager that can only be a success at clubs that give him plenty to spend rather than being a good coach following his high profile stints at Barcelona and Bayern Munich. Is there any truth in this do you think?
Well, to a point, yes. But it’s an unfair and, in my opinion, ill thought out point. Managing at a level where you regularly challenge for trophies, or managing where your first ambition is to stay up and then push on are completely different skill sets. Just as Tony Pulis, Alan Pardew and Sam Allardyce would almost certainly fail at City, United, Chelsea et al, Guardiola, Mourinho and the like would struggle lower down. It’s a different skill set for a different job. The obvious case in point there is David Moyes and how he fared when he stepped up to United.
What Guardiola is, though, an exceptional coach. Other than Claudio Bravo, he has improved every single City payer he’s worked with for more than a year. If you put him at a lower level and gave him infinite time rather than infinite money to spend, you’d see vast improvements there too. It’s not like he just buys great players and it works itself out – he coaches teams to extraordinarily high levels. But of course, when the money you have gives you the ability to buy the most suitable men to match your style, it helps.
Q. How was the summer transfer window for the club and were all needs addressed in the squad?
It was brilliant. Our biggest issue was our full-backs. We had four of them over the age of thirty were slowing down. Guardiola’s style requires quick full-backs and that’s what he got. The difference they’ve made has been phenomenal. Ederson in net has been an outstanding acquisition too – he’s on track to be the best goalkeeper in the world in due course.
Q. Do you expect much business by the club in the January transfer window?
Yes. They’ll get a centre-back – it sounds like good progress is being made to sign Virgil Van Dijk from Southampton (at the time of writing!). Unless a cheap-ish deal can be done for Alexis Sanchez, I expect City to wait until the summer and try and et him on a free. There aren’t any other pressing needs.
Q. Explain in no more than 140 characters how the last ten years have been for the football the club.
From the brink of administration to lottery-winners overnight, we’ve lived something few get to experience. The trophies have literally been dreams coming true.
Q. What do you make of Palace’s current predicament?
It’s surprised me. I never saw the De Boer disaster coming at all, but the flip side of that is that Roy Hodgson has made a much bigger impact than I thought he would. It strikes me that there are enough worse squads in the league that Palace should be reasonably safe, but I guess it’s going to be a battle that lasts most of the season now.
Q. Name one player from EACH side that you think the opposition should consider a real threat.
Raheem Sterling for City. He’s unbelievable and it’s great to see he’s finally being given national recognition for his impact on our title bid.
Wilfired Zaha worries me for Palace. He’s an exceptional talent and seems to be finding consistency – I wouldn’t want him on the ball too much!
Q. Your prediction?
I know we’re going to lose sooner or later and Palace are as likely as anybody to inflict that. I’m actually a bit apprehensive about this one – especially as a win would equal the world record for consecutive league wins, putting us 0n nineteen. However, I can’t predict against City at the moment for I’m backing us for a 3-1 win.
Q. And finally, please tell us about any projects that you may currently be working on.
I’m on the Bluemoon Podcast which is released every Friday and is a dedicated to Manchester City. We’re on Twitter. I write two City blogs a week for Yahoo Sports UK and publish them on my personal Twitter account.