LONDON: The Premier League title credentials of Pep Guardiola’s new-look Manchester City face an early-season examination on Monday when Ronald Koeman’s ambitious Everton visit the Etihad Stadium.
With around £150 million ($193.1 million, 164.1 million euros) of new players on show, City made an assured start to the campaign by winning 2-0 at promoted Brighton and Hove Albion last weekend.
But Everton are also stronger, taking their spending past £130 million this week with a club-record £45 million move for Gylfi Sigurdsson, and they trounced City 4-0 when the teams last met in January.
“They are a top squad and they have important players,” said Guardiola, the City manager.
“They lost an important player, (Romelu) Lukaku, but they have a good group of players — midfield players and strikers. They are one of the best teams in the Premier League, I am pretty sure of that.
“I expect they will play the same way and attack our defence.
“Sandro Ramirez and Wayne Rooney are used to playing in that way. They have a strong defence. They have great players and are dangerous on the counter-attack.”
City’s 4-0 defeat at Goodison Park in January was the low point of Guardiola’s maiden campaign in England, which ended with his side 15 points adrift of champions Chelsea in third place.
The visitors had 71 percent of possession and registered 13 attempts on goal to Everton’s six, but they were wasteful in attack and alarmingly porous in defence.
Of the goalkeeper and four defenders who started at Goodison, only centre-backs Nicolas Otamendi and John Stones are expected to be involved on Monday.
Guardiola has used a three-man defence in pre-season and at Brighton, with captain Vincent Kompany bringing much-needed authority at the back and new boys Kyle Walker and Danilo supplying thrust on the flanks.
City’s third new full-back, Benjamin Mendy, is not yet ready to make his debut due to a thigh injury.
– Sigurdsson shrugs off pressure –
But he is back in training, along with long-term injury victim Ilkay Gundogan, and both players are expected to return to action soon.
While Guardiola prioritised signing full-backs over the close season, his former Barcelona team-mate Koeman has apparently been on a mission to cram as many number 10s into his squad as possible.
Sigurdsson and his fellow new signings Davy Klaassen and Wayne Rooney all tend to play in central attacking roles and Ross Barkley also remains on Everton’s books for the time being.
Rooney and Klaassen played in support of Sandro Ramirez, another new signing, as Everton won 1-0 at home to Stoke City last weekend through Rooney’s first-half header.
Room must now also be found for Sigurdsson following his switch from Swansea City, but Koeman says it is a pleasant headache for a manager to have.
“You need competition in your team,” said the Dutchman. “It is not about 11 players.”
For his part, Sigurdsson says he will wear his hefty price-tag lightly.
“It’s not up to me how much clubs pay for me,” said the 27-year-old Iceland international, who supplied nine goals and 13 assists for Swansea in the league last season.
“I put the pressure on myself to play well for the team and create or score goals. I think that is all I need and that’s the only thing I focus on.”
Koeman has said that Sigurdsson will be involved on Monday, although the player himself says he only feels fit enough to play for 45 minutes.
Barkley is sidelined by a hamstring injury, but Ramirez could return after sitting out Thursday’s 2-0 Europa League win over Hajduk Split due to a heel complaint.