Man City’s tactical rejuvenation under Pep Guardiola

Man City’s tactical rejuvenation under Pep Guardiola
Aug 22, 2016

Manchester City

Art- the expression or application of human creativity, skill and imagination. Since the emergence of football in the late 1800s it has sparked the debate is football an art-form? The football that Manchester City has produced under new boss Pep Guardiola certainly puts forward a compelling argument.

Does Pep’s football check the boxes? Firstly, the creativity and imagination are there. Guardiola has introduced an innovative style of play that features wing backs slotting in at CM, and the CM dropping back to form a back three. This style of play also requires a high level of skill to execute, box number three. City’s tactics certainly fit the criteria of an artform, however, there still are some sceptics about if it’s truly an art.

Pep’s ‘formation’ if you can even call it that has proved hard to pin down. In his first three games, Guardiola’s tactics have been described as numerous different setups ranging from a 4-1-4-1 to a 4-2-3-1. In reality, it’s roughly more of a 3-2-2-3. However, the fluidity of the formation can make it a 2-3-1-4 or even a 5-3-2 at times.

The key to the formation is the holding CM much like Pep’s systems at Barcelona (Busquets) and Bayern Munich (Alonso). This role has been given to Fernandinho in the absence of Ilkay Gundogan. One would think this philosophy of play is tailor made for Gundogan with him being the key catalyst in the centre of the park. Furthermore, previously Pep has stated that he is a big admirer of Gündogan and with prior knowledge of his signing could have built his way of playing around the German.

Behind the CM sit two ball playing centre backs. John Stones has reignited the speculations that he has world class potential after three stellar performers following a previous campaign where he was largely underwhelming. Alongside him has been a mixture of Otamendi and Kolarov. Despite looking dead and buried last season a rejuvenated Kolarov has turned up to the new campaign, earning his way into Guardiola’s plans. Otamendi has also staked a claim to the centre back position, however, is reluctant to jockey and dives in way too much. A style that Pep has condemned in the past. However, a third claim is set to usurp Kompany’s place. Fernandinho. With Gundogan in the midfield, Fernandinho may find himself without a starting XI place. Pre-season Pep teased the possibility of playing him at centre-back, a position Pellegrini played him numerous times last time out.

What really sets this style of play apart from the crowd, however, is the innovative use of full backs, Pep dabbled with this system towards the twilight of reign at Bayern with Alaba and Lahm pushing up supporting the CMs creating an overload. This same system has been implemented at City with their less talented wing backs, Clichy and Sagna.

The step up tactically from Pellegrini has been the biggest difference to this City side. Last season Pellegrini came under fire all too often for tactically getting it wrong. The most striking example against Leicester where they gave too much respect to the Foxes and proceeded to be dismantled by a confident Leicester side. Pellegrini did get it right once in a while. The Champions League quarter-final, a prime example. He took the big decision to drop Yaya Toure and replace in with the more defensively minded Fernando.

Obviously, the formation still has some rough edges and isn’t fine tuned just yet and won’t be for a couple of months with tweaks needed. It will be interesting to see the development of the philosophy and see it reignites the football and art debate.

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