At last, the real Pep shows up

THIS was more like it. More of what we've been waiting for. Make that expecting. After all, he was supposed to have the most magical wand since Cinderella's Fairy Godmother.

And he also has the biggest budget. If last season was an epic failure, this one could see deliverance.

Manchester City's 1-0, going on 3-0, win at Chelsea bore most, if not all, the hallmarks of a true Pep Guardiola performance. Not the goals but the dominance. The sheer relentlessness of the passing and pressing.

The champions couldn't get the ball.

And that it came after a devastating double whammy of injuries made it all the more impressive.

This, the season's biggest Big Boys clash so far, was won and lost by the respective managers before a ball was kicked.

When news came of Kun Aguero's broken rib barely 24 hours after we heard that Benjamin Mendy's ACL was to keep him out for almost the entire season, it seemed that City might be cursed.

Last year it was Ilkay Gundogan and Gabriel Jesus who were crocked for months on end. And there's always Vincent Kompany. Some managers would have sulked. Not Pep.

"We want to become a big club, I've been at two amazing clubs in my life - you have to overcome this situation," he told the press who had assembled like ghouls expecting the mother of all whinges.

After confirming Aguero's injury, he added: "If we start to complain we'll never reach the step we want to get to. I prefer to play with men who are strong. I would like to play with Sergio because we are strong with him, but he's not there.

"No complaints. The big clubs do it - they overcome the difficult situations. If people are saying we can't do it now, forget about it. We'll never reach what we want as a club in the next five or six years."

That was what the players wanted to hear. It was what his bosses wanted to hear. It smacked of firm leadership. No cowering over rotten luck, no shrinking in the face of adversity. He'd spent £220m (RM1.239 billion) in the transfer window so excuses were not an option.

Wow! If you were a player, this is a manager you want to play for.

In stark and telling contrast, another renowned motivator of men, Antonio Conte, was complaining about the fixture schedule.

Yes, Chelsea played 24 hours after City and had travelled, but compared to Guardiola, he sounded like Arsene Wenger.

Chelsea had just produced the best European performance by a Premier League club in years yet were given a lame excuse for this game. City had a genuine excuse - but were not offered it.

You could see the contrasting approaches of the bosses in the line-ups. Where City opted for the gung-ho, Chelsea's was uncharacteristically timid. Cesar Azpilacueta preferred to the marauding Victor Moses at right back was a sure sign.

Antonio Rudiger, Andreas Christensen, Gary Cahill and Marco Alonso were already there. Protecting them were N'Golo Kante and Tiemoue Bakayoko. And it still wasn't enough. When he replaced Alvaro Morata with Willian instead of another out-and-out striker, Michy Batshuayi, it underlined the meek approach.

There is a sense that Conte's heart is not in it this season – being dressed as sloppily as the team performed at the Community Shield and complaints about transfers were early clues.

Then came last week's admission that he was homesick. "I miss Italy," he'd told Italian state radio. Less well reported was that he'd added: "I will be back soon."

According to The Sunday Times, he is so miffed at the Chelsea hierarchy that he would have resigned during the summer but for a huge penalty clause in his contract.

Roman Abramovich is never there and he doesn't see eye to eye with technical director Michael Emanalo. And he's already achieved his main objective by winning the title in his first year. Only Europe remains as a challenge and he appears to be up for that.

All this is the flipside of Pep's situation. Knowing that his whole reputation is at stake this season, he could not be more up for it. Armed with a new, albeit already damaged, war chest, you could see how much it meant the way he celebrated victory with his coaching staff.

There is a long way to go, of course, and City got off to a flyer last season. But this time they have a goalkeeper – Ederson already looking a commanding presence – besides full backs who are not pension age.

And the signs are the players are beginning to 'get' what he's on about in training.

Quibbles are Raheem Sterling's final ball and Nicolas Otamendi's mad moments, but they are well on the way to constructing what Fergie called the passing "carousel" of Barcelona.

The conductor is Kevin de Bruyne and it was telling that Conte singled him out as a player Chelsea let go. A dig at Mourinho? A dig at his bosses? Probably both but it was interpreted as another admission of defeat.

But don't write off the Blues – they are serious about Europe.

City are serious about everything. Pep has given Mendy a return date: it's the Champions League semifinal.


Man City

City did not just beat the champions, they outclassed them. On their own ground with key men missing.

As statements go, it was massive. Only United look in the same league. Bring on the derbies!


If he thought dropping Rooney was the solution, Ronald Koeman now knows his problems go much deeper.

The Toffees were one of the big summer spenders but now it could be 'Come back David Moyes, all is forgiven'.

Ben Stokes

England's cricket vice-captain qualifies on both counts with his brawl that may well have cost his country the Ashes.

Not to mention its best all-rounder millions from the IPL besides a chunk of his career. What was he thinking?