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The brilliance of Pep Guardiola: How the Spaniard engineered the glorious title win for Man City
Bijen Sheth


Manchester City were recently crowned as the champions of the 2020-21 Premier League and will be playing a Champions League final for the first time in their history on May 30. City have just won their fifth Premier League title in nine years. Since Pep Guardiola took over the side in 2016, Man City have now won 10 trophies, including 3 Premier League titles during his tenure.

At the time of writing of this article, they won their last match against Newcastle United away from home by a 4-3 margin. They are now unbeaten in their last 23 away games in all competitions (W-21 and D-2). After losing to Spurs in November, they ended up winning 22 of their next 27 matches, including a 15-game winning run in the Premier League. 

Man City did not start well this season…

It has not always been smooth sailing for Guardiola’s men this season. On November 21, after a 2-0 loss to Tottenham, City were in 11th place with just 12 points from 8 games – their worst start in the league since 2008-09.

Already in a poor vein of form, the moment led to Guardiola pushing the reset button was the 1-1 draw with West Brom on December 15. In January, he confessed, “We started to rebuild and reconstruct from that point.”

In this article we look at how Guardiola redefined this season from 11th in the table at one point to winning the league with three games to spare.

Ruben Dias – A key figure for Man City

City were runners-up last season with 18 points away from eventual champions Liverpool. The major problem was the centre back position. City were not able to replace club legend Vincent Kompany and with injuries to Ayermic Laporte, they lacked a ball-playing centre back.

Centre-backs play a very important role in teams and this can be seen with Liverpool as well. Virgil Van Dijk played an integral role in transforming Liverpool to a Champions League and Premier League-winning side. An injury to Van Dijk this season has resulted in Liverpool fighting for a top 4 finish instead.

As a result, with the signing of Ruben Dias and his partnership with John Stones, things started looking better for City this season.

In an interview Guardiola spoke about Dias, “He is not just a player who plays good, he’s the player who makes other players play good too.

“We know he has been brilliant defensively but we look at the numbers for how he has helped Manchester city in the build up with his passing and ball-carrying abilities.”

Dias has a pass completion rate of 94%. He passes more than 5 times in the final third in every match.

His progressive carrying distance (total distance, in yards, a player moved the ball while controlling it with their feet towards the opponent’s goal) is among the top percentile ranks as well. His progressive carries are 7 per match which is among the highest for centre backs in the Premier League.

These metrics point to the fact that besides his obvious defensive contribution, Dias has also helped City in the build-up which is a vital part of Guardiola’s game plan.

Strikerless City and Inverted Full Backs

Guardiola went through long periods of time when two of his first-choice strikers in Sergio Aguero and Gabriel Jesus were unavailable this season. But finding a way without an out-and-out forward is nothing new for Guardiola. He made the false nine role famous with his use of Lionel Messi when he was in charge of Barcelona and he replicated the same with Manchester City this season.

It meant that when City were in possession of ball and went on the offensive the formation switched to an almost 2-8 on the pitch. The full backs would turn into inverted full backs and tuck inside the midfield while the number 9 would drop back. This created an overload in the midfield and helped City hold on to the ball longer.

Ilkay Gundogan, Bernardo Silva, Kevin de Bruyne and a wingback like Cancelo moved into midfield, creating a superiority of numbers in the middle of the pitch. Gundogan is City’s top scorer in the Premier League with 12 goals, something which no expert could have predicted at the start of the season. Joao Cancelo has shot-creation actions of 2.68 per match which is fifth-highest among defenders in the Premier League.

While facing a counterattack, one of the full backs and thee defensive midfielder in Rodri would drop back to help the centre-backs. Also, with the quality and pace of the full backs City have, they often track back quickly to perform their defensive duties as well. This season they have conceded just once from a rapid transition after conceding possession.

The Champions League Final Awaits…

Manchester City did not proceed with their usual formation against Chelsea in their recent Premier League game, which they ended up losing 2-1. It would be interesting to see the tactical battle between Thomas Tuchel and Pep Guardiola.

Guardiola last won the Champions League title in 2011 with Barcelona and has a chance of creating history with Manchester City. If Guardiola wins the title, he will be only the fourth manager in history to win the prestigious Champions League title thrice.

However, Tuchel is no pushover and has managed to bring about a revolution in Chelsea’s fortunes. Guardiola is yet to face a loss with City in the Champions League this season, having conceded only four goals in the 12 matches they have played so far.

Chelsea, on the other hand, have lost only four matches since Tuchel took over and have beaten Man City twice in the last month or so.

It has been a long journey to the top for Manchester City, but there is little doubt that a lot of it depends on Gaurdiola coming though and delivering them the Champions League.

Do you think he can lead Man City to the promised land? Let us know!

Note: Cover Image photos from Man City Social Media

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