There is a phrase in football that you will hear almost on a weekly basis: one game at a time. The implication being that nobody looks too far into the future.
It’s a nice line but the reality is different. When you have eight days like the kind Manchester City are facing, as a player you cannot help but look ahead to the context of different fixtures and, for managers, the preparation for such a period will have started well in advance.
City won’t win anything between now and next Sunday but once they have completed trips to London, Paris and Merseyside, they will have a fair idea of what the season has in store for them – whether they are the team to beat or whether they will be the ones doing the chasing.
Manchester City have had a mixed start to the season dropping points in two out of five games
They have a tough week ahead starting with Champions League winners Chelsea on Saturday
This period – Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, Paris St Germain at the Parc des Princes and Liverpool at Anfield – is one where players can enhance their reputations but I believe this is also a spell for a manager to come in to his own.
Pep Guardiola was brought to Manchester to excel in these moments. We all know what he has achieved over the last five years but this feels like a perfect point for him to remind everyone of why he is regarded as the best in the world, a genius who sees football in a different way.
Occasionally, he has had a habit of overthinking things in big games and Chelsea will have been on his mind for weeks, particularly after what happened at the end of last season when Thomas Tuchel oversaw three wins over City at Wembley, the Etihad Stadium and in the Champions League final.
After facing Chelsea, Manchester City then go away to face Paris Saint-Germain on Tuesday
They finish their week of away trips against in-form title rivals Liverpool on October 3
As a player, when you come up against an opponent who gets the better of you, it plays on your mind ahead of the next time you face them and you ask yourself questions: Will they do it to me again? What can I do to stop them? How will I cope on my own?
Guardiola will be no different, in that he will be anxious about the outcome at Stamford Bridge. Chelsea look ominous – I was at Tottenham last week and they won there, comprehensively, without hitting top gear – and Tuchel has surprised me with how quick he has joined the elite managers.
Every decision Tuchel makes right now is coming off and Chelsea are a team with momentum and confidence because of it. The concern on the other hand for City this weekend, will be if a hangover remains from what happened when the teams met in Porto in May.
It surprised me that City didn’t buy a number nine in the summer. They arguably needed that player two summers ago, never mind two months ago, before the attempt to sign Harry Kane and then Cristiano Ronaldo ended in failure.
It’s periods like this why Manchester City hired Guardiola to help them achieve success
He made it work last season but how does Guardiola do it again? When you spend £100million on someone, as City did with Jack Grealish, he is going to start. You then have Riyad Mahrez, Bernardo Silva, Phil Foden, Feran Torres and Raheem Sterling to fit in to a couple of spots.
Sterling, as it stands, is tending to find himself as the odd man out. He’s only scored three goals for City since February 21st in his last 24 appearances, which is at odds to what he’s been doing for England.
One of the aspects I admire most about Raheem is his ability to overcome adversity. He still has another level to go in terms of his form and I always believe when City are on song then Raheem will be in the team. I don’t see these three games passing without him having an influence.
The man who will have most influence on this period, however, is Guardiola and I would go as far to say as this is one of the biggest weeks he has faced since he has been at the club, trying to outwit Tuchel, then Mauricio Pochettino and, finally, Jurgen Klopp all away from the Etihad.
Every decision Thomas Tuchel makes right now is coming off for him and Chelsea
The concern for City is if there is a hangover from their Champions League final defeat
Guardiola of course has had a well-documented recent exchange with fans about the numbers attending home games and whilst I believe his words were initially taken out of context, it may have served as a reminder of the importance in publicly showing he appreciates the soul of the club, which I do believe he does.
City will be roared on by their passionate fans in the away end at all three grounds in the coming ten days and that hard-core of supporters is as good as any other club. There are many who have been there through thick and thin. Things, however, have admittedly changed since it was £20 to get into Maine Road and there were only League and occasional Cup games to attend.
It’s an expensive business following any Premier League club now and not everyone can afford it but I’m sure this issue will pass. What matters on Saturday for City is beating Chelsea and just restoring a level of composure to attack the rest of the season.
There is no getting away from the fact this is a humungous sequence of games. Pep Guardiola was brought in to stamp his presence all over them. This is his time to shine.
Manchester City arguably needed a number nine like Harry Kane two summers ago
Raheem Sterling is the odd man out but he has shown an ability to overcome adversity
DISAPPOINTED ALONSO FEELS TAKING THE KNEE HAS LOST IMPACT
Marcos Alonso was a team-mate of mine in Florence. I know him and never had a moment’s issue with him in the dressing room.
He made a point this week about why he will no longer take the knee before games, preferring instead to point to the slogan on his badge that says no room for racism. Marcos, the Chelsea wing-back, feels that taking the knee, as a gesture, has lost its impact.
I want to make it absolutely clear that I have no problem with what Marcos has said or how he feels. There is too much hasty reaction in society now and it would be totally wrong to imply that because he won’t take the knee he could in some way be racist.
Marcos Alonso will stop taking the knee after feeling the gesture has lost its impact
People are entitled to their own views about taking the knee and they should not feel under pressure to offer an explanation – or provide justification – for their actions. We live in a democratic country and should be able to discuss each other’s views maturely.
We need to keep working together to tackle racism and Romelu Lukaku, another Chelsea player, expressed his feelings when he called for a summit involving Premier League captains, social media CEOs, government, the PFA and the FA.
My personal opinion on the matter will never change. It was disappointing to read Marcos feels it has lost its impact but I still feel it is a couple of seconds’ gesture at the beginning of a game, it doesn’t hurt anyone and it is providing an education for kids and future generations.
MICAH’S MOMENT OF THE WEEK
What a night we had at Potton Bowls Club on Wednesday! That was the venue which won an EFL and Carabao competition to hold the draw for the last 16 of the Carabao Cup and I had the pleasure of sharing the responsibilities with Harry Redknapp.
I arrived at the venue at 4pm, poor old Harry arrived about 8pm after being caught up in a motorway closure but was given a hero’s welcome by the locals when he finally arrived in time to see his old club, West Ham, beat Manchester United.
Those four hours I was my own, though, were not wasted. I actually had a go at playing bowls and, you know what, I think I’ve got myself a new hobby. There’s not too much stress on my old knees and I’ll certainly give it another go!