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Manchester City-Brighton & Hove Albion Preview
While the blank-cheque approach Manchester City have used predating Pep Guardiola's arrival to their touchline has brought quality players and a pair of Premier League titles to the blue side of the city this decade, it also noticeably did not have any silverware at checkout following the Catalan's first season in charge.
Another summer spending spree later, Guardiola and the Citizens set out in search of domestic and continental glory, starting with Saturday's lid-lifter against promoted Brighton and Hove Albion at The Amex Stadium.
For all the talk of revolution and revival that heralded Guardiola's arrival following his successes at both Barcelona and Bayern Munich, his first season at Manchester City proved to be a humbling experience. City (23-9-6) finished a distant third in the table behind Chelsea and runners-up Tottenham Hotspur. They were bounced in the round of 16 in the Champions League by French Ligue 1 champions Monaco in which they shipped six goals in the two legs, lost to eternal rivals Manchester United in the fourth round of the EFL Cup and fell to Arsenal in the FA Cup semifinals.
For all the attacking prowess City own, their fragilities on the wings and between the sticks proved their undoing.
Guardiola and City director of football Txiki Begiristain again unleashed Shiekh Mansour's bottomless finances on the football world and spent nearly £130 million on wide backs alone as Benjamin Mendy (£52 million), Kyle Walker (£50 million) and Danilo (£26.5 million) were signed from Monaco, Spurs and Real Madrid, respectively.
In goal, City lavished nearly £35 million - a world-record transfer fee at the position - on Benfica's Ederson. The 23-year-old Brazil international appears to have unseated incumbent Claudio Bravo, potentially bringing some stability to a position in which the Chilean struggled as a shot stopper arguably as much as predecessor Joe Hart, now on loan at West Ham, would have struggled to adjust to Guardiola's style.
"He has this quality, in the goal kicks," Guardiola explained to ESPNFC. "When the opposition makes high pressing and it's complicated, now we have the chance to put the ball in the other box, and of course, we have a little bit more space in the middle."
Yet City's most influential signing, a £43 million payout for Mendy's club teammate Bernando Silva, is the one that appears the most puzzling on the surface. The 22-year-old could be surplus to goods given the attacking power that includes strikers Sergio Aguero and Gabriel Jesus as well as playmakers Kevin de Bruyne, David Silva and Leroy Sane plus Ilkay Gundogan, who missed most of last season with a torn ACL.
And that doesn't even include factoring in veterans Yaya Toure, Fernandinho and Fabian Delph, but it was the Portugal international who won Guardiola's praises after City's 3-0 win over West Ham United in Reykjavik.
"Bernardo played his first minutes and he was immediately ready to play," Guardiola told City's official website. "Intelligent players don't need time to be involved in the way we want to play. He is a humble guy - he's so intelligent, which is a huge quality. Close to the box he has the quality to score a lot of goals and he's a fighter too so he's going to help us during the season."
And more than £200 million later, City likely aren't done in the transfer market. They have kept close tabs on disgruntled Arsenal striker Alexis Sanchez, though manager Arsene Wenger has insisted the Chile international will not be moved. City are also weighing the cost of a bidding war with Europe's elite for Monaco prodigy Kylian Mbappe, and Guardiola is still hunting for a centre back to provide depth behind talisman Vincent Kompany, Nicolas Otamendi and John Stones.
Opposite City's eventual nine-figure starting XI are Brighton and Hove Albion, whose last appearance in the top flight of English football came during a four-season run in the First Division from 1979-83. The Seagulls were pipped by Newcastle United for the Championship title in last season's final day, but they still earned direct promotion as runners-up.
And the sticker shock of having to merely contend in the Premier League has hit home as Brighton (28-9-9) have set a club record in transfer fees three times this summer, including twice this week. They first spent a reported £5.2 million for Valencia goalkeeper and Australia international Matt Ryan to replace David Stockdale, and then landed PSV midfielder Davy Propper for £10 million Monday.
"There is no doubting his pedigree, Davy has played a number of matches in the Champions League for PSV, as well as international football for the Netherlands," manager Chris Hughton said. "He's a strong competitor as a central midfielder and will complement our existing midfield players, and he is also a really good age at 25; we are absolutely delighted to welcome him to the club."
On Thursday, the club came to terms on a reported £13.5 million transfer fee for Colombia international Jose Izquierdo from Belgian side FC Brugge. The winger was a valuable cog in helping Brugge finish runners-up in the Juliper League, totaling 14 goals in 28 matches, and also scored in Champions League group play against Leicester City
"Jose is someone we have been aware of for sometime and has been one of the standout players in the Belgian league over the past three years," Hughton said. "Jose has good experience with almost 250 senior games in both Colombia and Belgium, and has played in the Europa League, Champions League and international football, having made his debut for his national team this summer."
Ryan will be under enormous pressure to fill the void left by Stockdale, who posted 20 clean sheets in helping the Seagulls concede just 40 goals in 46 league matches.
This is the first meeting between the teams since Brighton bounced Manchester City on penalties in the second round of the 2009 Carling Cup. Forward Glenn Murray, who led the Seagulls with 24 goals last season, scored a goal and converted a penalty in that match.
Updated August 10, 2017