Norwich City
Birmingham City
11:45 AM UTC
Game Details
 By Simon Curtis

Nicolas Otamendi, Ederson, Fabian Delph benefit from Pep Guardiola philosophy

Completing 1015 passes in a single match may not be everybody's cup of tea, but for fans of Manchester City it was further proof that early prognoses about Pep Guardiola's tactics were well wide of the mark.

Many were the voices of dissent when the Catalan's first season in Manchester ended empty-handed. That this kind of thing wouldn't work in England was a refrain that could have been expected from some quarters. In England, after all, things are done differently, as Cardiff boss Neil Warnock was at pains to remind Wolves coach Nuno Espirito Santo after he attempted a hand shake while Warnock was still busy dealing with his one of his more violent mood swings recently.

Guardiola is long enough in the tooth to ignore the jibes, however. If they had an equivalent phrase for water off a duck's back in Spain, this was surely the approach that the Catalan was employing. After all, his methods had been embraced and lauded in Barcelona and Munich. Why not in Manchester?

Swansea, possibly ruing the fact that the prematch guard of honour was the closest they got to City all afternoon, proved to be yet another pliable opponent. City's season has been packed full of apparently flexible friends. In reality, when the passing game so ridiculed in some quarters last season is rolled out with this level of accuracy and ferocity, not many can live with it.

Swansea, approaching the last desperate moments of 2017-18 with work still to do, will not have marked this fixture down as anything but a loss beforehand. Quite how completely they were dismantled shone new and invigorating light on to the stars of this Manchester City season, however.

Chief tormentor was Kevin De Bruyne. Just hours from being announced as runner-up for the PFA Player of the Year, the Belgian was right back to the pre-Christmas levels that had made him the outstanding candidate for the award. Not since Elano whacked in an astonishing free-kick against Newcastle back in 2007 has the Etihad seen a shot hit so sweetly, still rising as it swept past an airborne Lukasz Fabianski and into the back of the net.

De Bruyne's contribution has been immense this season, as has that of his midfield partner David Silva. Young Player of the Year Leroy Sane and Raheem Sterling have been electric on the two wings, with Sterling's 18 goals putting him ahead of Jamie Vardy, Romelu Lukaku, Roberto Firmino, Sadio Mane, Alvaro Morata, Anthony Martial and Alexis Sanchez. The fact that his finishing still has some room for improvement suggests the young England striker could become a really special player given a little bit more time.

With much attention on the free scoring front men, where Sergio Aguero's injury-disrupted season has still delivered another 30 goals, the spotlight should also be shined on Fernandinho's sterling work in deep midfield, plus the tenacious defending and flying right wing raids of Kyle Walker.

Manchester City players celebrate David Silva's goal during their Premier League game against Swansea.
Manchester City swept Swansea aside on Sunday, winning 5-0.

There are, however, solid arguments for even greater plaudits to go to two players, who have improved beyond recognition. Nicolas Otamendi had made a name for himself as a fast tackling, reckless risk-taker, prone to flying horizontal challenges when he might have been better advised to stay on his feet. That urge has been snuffed out, with the Argentinean remodelling himself on the game's great defenders. Neat, clinical and cool-headed, Otamendi has become one of the most prolific purveyors of clean tackles and perceptive passes the Premier League possesses.

And yet, despite this monumental improvement, he is not the most eye-catching in this respect. Over on the left of defence, Fabian Delph, a stopgap reserve midfielder has surpassed even this. Moved to left-back to fill in for long-term injury victim Benjamin Mendy, Delph has turned this foreign role into a masterclass. It is perhaps the ex-Aston Villa midfielder whose progress has been most eye-catching.

Solid and disciplined, he has added a sharp awareness of what his new position means in Guardiola's attacking philosophy. With full-backs occupying a vital role in the Catalan's shape-shifting escapades, Delph has taken to the left flank like a duck to water. His give and go with David Silva, to set up Sterling for the second goal against Swansea was the work of a technician, who has had years to perfect his role.

Behind them all, one last candidate for a standing ovation awaits. Ederson arrived in Britain from Benfica, where he had caused a stir with his laser-guided deliveries, his swiftness to see danger and classy ability with the ball at his feet. He has carried this form into his inaugural season in England and kept goal in a way that has instilled a huge amount of confidence in the defenders in front of him.

Swansea will vouch for the skills of these -- and indeed other -- City players. Manager Carlos Carvalhal stated simply "they are from another planet".

They are in fact human, but they are pushing the boundaries.

Simon is one of ESPN FC's Manchester City bloggers. Follow him on Twitter @bifana_bifana.


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