Pep Guardiola believes he missed something at Manchester City last season, not least in failing to field Fabian Delph at left-back.
The Premier League leaders head to Crystal Palace on Sunday, where victory would extend their record-breaking winning run in the top-flight to 19 matches – the same as the Bundesliga best Guardiola established with Bayern Munich in 2013-14 – and open up a 16-point advantage over second-place Chelsea.
It is a far cry from the former Barcelona coach’s debut season in England, where City only made sure of Champions League qualification in the final round of fixtures and finished trophyless.
Guardiola bolstered his squad, with more than £200million spent on new first-team arrivals before the start of the current campaign, but only goalkeeper Ederson and right-back Kyle Walker have been regular starters as City have torn numerous opponents to shreds.
The majority of the side, from vastly improved centre-back Nicolas Otamendi to surprise top scorer Raheem Sterling, have been drawn from players Guardiola led in 2016-17, leading him to ponder where he went wrong.
“Now when I speak with my staff I say that, in the end, we are playing with nine players from last season. So, we did something not good last season,” he said. “We missed something.
“We didn’t change seven or eight players. I think the new players give energy, with the way they are in the locker room. New faces always help teams.
“But last season I missed something, when nine players who normally play are the same and the players in midfield and up front are the same.
“Something happened. Of course, they know us better and we know them better. Sometimes you need more time to adjust.”
A cruciate knee ligament injury to showpiece signing Benjamin Mendy led to Delph being deployed at left-back – a position the England midfielder has held onto since September thanks to series of assured displays.
“Delph every weekend!”
— Manchester City (@ManCity) November 19, 2017
“Last season, for example, I never thought to play Fabian Delph at full-back,” Guardiola reflected, before mocking some of the lavish praise recently sent his way.
“‘Oh, the brilliant Pep, how talented he is…’. Why didn’t I do that last season?
“Sometimes you need more time to see things. Now Mendy isn’t there. Fabian is there, he is able, he is smart, he is a midfield player.
“He gives us character. He is a real leader in the locker room, Fabian Delph. That’s why I always give credit to the players for what they do.”
Buoyant post-match celebrations have been a feature of City’s dominant form, hitting the headlines when they were allegedly the spark for a post-match incident in the Old Trafford tunnel following the 2-1 derby win over Manchester United earlier this month.
Guardiola is delighted to see the bond that has developed between his players – especially those confined to bit-part roles – and feels it will be crucial if they are to collect silverware come May.
— Manchester City (@ManCity) December 30, 2017
“The players who do not play regularly, they are exceptional human beings,” he added. “We cannot create something when the people who do not play regularly, they always create problems, have bad faces and bad behaviour.
“You can ask all the managers who have success and win titles, always there is a common thing – the group is strong. Not 11 players, the group.
“Everyone has desire to win, everybody wants to win and dreams to do that. When that happens, everything can happen.”
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