Gary Neville earmarked Manchester City’s 2-0 win over Newcastle United as the moment they proved they would be Premier League champions.
Pep Guardiola’s side lifted the title at the weekend after a run of 10 successive league triumphs. They beat Chelsea 1-0 at the Eithad Stadium with the league already sewn up.
City’s defensive record improved dramatically after Guardiola made key changes to the personnel, with Nathan Ake particularly impressing at left-back. Those alterations came against Newcastle and kickstarted the winning run, which Neville highlighted as a vital moment in the season.
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“It was really interesting yesterday listening to Pep today talk about proper defenders because he’s conditioned our minds over the last 10 years,” Neville told Sky Sports.
“I thought the ideas of proper defenders, which was Azpilicueta at right-back or Ivanovic at right-back for Chelsea, or even the way in which we played the game and had tight back fours, if you think about Nathan Ake at left-back or Akanji at left-back, or Kyle Walker and right back or John Stones at right back, that is not a very Pep Guardiola sort of team.
“The idea of seeing four centre-backs at times playing in a back four feels very different to Pep’s usual style of play. It feels like a trend which was established in the World Cup a bit, with more pragmatic teams playing on the counter-attack and being more physical.
“This is the most physical Pep Guardiola team we’ve ever seen, I think, in terms of size of players, and look at the result. Goals per game, a small shift from 2.6 goals per game before the switch against Newcastle to four proper defenders to 2.8. Goals conceded per game – one per game before the Newcastle game to 0.6 after.
“We’re talking about 0.1 in a 100 metres race, or 0.1 in a lap of an F1 race – that little shift from very good to exceptional which means you become a championship-winning team. Pep Guardiola got really serious against Newcastle, he started picking what I would call proper defenders, and it was a shift at that point that I think took them from being potential champions into absolute winners. The last 10 games they’ve been absolutely brilliant.”