Change is not something Pep Guardiola has really had to deal with all too often in his managerial career. Tactically he has been able to stick with similar systems and approaches throughout. Quite right too given the immense success he has had at both Barcelona and Bayern Munich.
This is a little different at Manchester City. His side have struggled of late in both creating clear chances and defending solidly. They now face Barcelona, who possess the most frightening attacking trio in footballing history. For every other side in world football you would expect a change in their approach when facing the Catalonia-based juggernaut. Manchester City, however, should think of themselves as the exception to this rule: they should stick rather than twist.
Guardiola is not going to park the proverbial bus, we can be pretty sure of that in any case. As much as some will want to suggest that is the best course of action, it is not in his nature to sit back and it should not even cross his mind against this Barcelona team. Such a plan would only expose the glaring weaknesses of City when out of possession.
The most important thing to remember is that this is not the Barcelona team that Guardiola managed. They are a different collection of players and the collective is a unique, markedly different beast.
Some things have remained, of course. Barca still average considerably more possession than anyone else in La Liga, just as Manchester City do in the Premier League. Crucially though, many of the vital components from Guardiola’s highly-decorated reign are no longer present. Lionel Messi, Gerard Pique and Andres Iniesta remain, but Messi’s attacking partners, Neymar and Luis Suarez, make them a far more challenging forward unit.
Possession is no longer a necessity and the ability to produce breath-taking attacking transitions is a new danger that City will certainly have to account for. They are, however, more flawed out of possession than Guardiola’s great team of a few years ago.
City too are vastly different from Guardiola’s Barcelona side. One similarity that remains, is that their best way to defend is to retain possession. Succumbing to the natural temptation of a low block against Barcelona is an open invitation far more than a secure safety-first move. The increased potency of Barcelona’s attack means the defend deep at all costs approach is no longer as reliable as it once was.
Pressing high presents risks, but Manchester City do not realistically have the personnel nor the experience to accept not having the ball. Seldom will the Citizens play as underdogs this season, but they must not let that impact their own approach. At their best earlier this season they were an expansive, pressing unit who looked capable of wiping the floor with any side who dared to cross their path.
If they are to pull off an historic victory in Barcelona, risks must be taken.
Should City not get a positive result on Wednesday night then Guardiola will be questioned whatever he does. Unlike many other managers, Guardiola’s brilliance is in producing teams that can defeat any opposition without having to consistently change their setup. Adaptation to the opponent is not as big a part of Guardiola’s approach as Jose Mourinho’s, for instance. It might be a tough learning curve, it could even hurt the side in the short-term, but sticking to their ideology even against Barcelona at the Camp Nou is part of the process in the development of this Manchester City team.