Pep Guardiola is a messiah – that’s what is said in modern day football. Period.
The Spaniard is arguably the most successful manager in world football right now, who knows how to impose his own style over the team he manages. If you watch a Guardiola team play, you’ll make it out on your own that it’s Guardiola’s side dictating things on the pitch.
It’s Guardiola’s sides’ renowned playing style that has made what the former Bayern Munich and Barcelona manager what he is today, and its no fluke that his possession based style has helped him create feared forces wherever he has managed.
As a new challenge awaits the mastermind, Manchester City would know what they’re getting with Guardiola. Ever since he started managing, Guardiola associates himself with unique things in the game. The possession based football, which he hates calling tiki-taka, and the development of youth, apart from cheeky signings that most end up ignoring, take Joshua Kimmich, Xabi Alonso, Kingsley Coman,Thiago Alcantara, Alexis Sanchez or Douglas Costa as examples.
All the transfers he makes are well calculated and well planned. If a player suits his playing style, he ends up being his player. And inevitably, they end up being surprise signing-of-the season candidates. Guardiola doesn’t want his players to run about and do hard training. A huge amount of focus is laid on perfecting possession football and a high tempo style.
At Manchester City, Manuel Pellegrini had shelled out around £350million on players since he joined back in 2013. He won a single Premier League crown, but the Citizens still couldn’t muster something special in the Champions League, apart from their semi-final run last season, which was halted by Real Madrid.
Man City have the license to spend as much money as they want to achieve success. Guardiola hasn’t managed at team like that before. At Bayern and Barcelona, the sides were already good enough to achieve what they wanted to and spending buckets of money wasn’t sensible.
While City signed players over the fees of £20m nine times, Guardiola did that on only three occasions. And two out of three of them have been classic Guardiola signings.
Until now, it can be said that Guardiola has been lucky to manage two gigantic clubs, where he had a majority of things handed to him on a plate. There were things that were to be done obviously, but most of them were in place. At City, things are completely different. The side he inherits from Manuel Pellegrini is in need of an exodus of deadwood and influx of fresh talent.
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Guardiola’s approach to the game is something that will be a disadvantage, if one plays in the Premier League. Atletico Madrid had ousted Bayern in a tie that can’t be dubbed as an upset.
Every sensible football fan knew the approach both sides would take, bringing to the fore Guardiola’s predictability in terms of playing style. And Bayern got knocked out of the competition.
Against Wolfsburg in the 2014-15 season, Bayern were run ragged by a fast, counter attack minded Dieter Hecking side, who hammered the Bavarians 4-1. In the same season, Augsburg beat Bayern 1-0, thanks to a Raul Bobbadilla goal, that came in a similar playing style – defend deep with a holding midfielder in front of the centre-halves, allow Bayern to rotate possession and break with pace on the break.
And the Premier League is the home for resembling tactics. Sides like West Brom, Bournemouth, Sunderland, Stoke, West Ham and the likes are more than just accustomed to hammering big clubs on the break and take advantage of set piece opportunities.
West Brom had beaten Manchester United in a similar manner in the 2014-15 season and Stoke City had destroyed Manchester City 2-0 last December. A formidable Spurs side were held to a 1-1 draw late in the the previous season, which led to Pochettino’s men’s downfall in the title race.
The success of the counterattacking playing style is highlighted by Leicester City’s unlikely title triumph. The way they played is a reminiscent of the Atletico Madrid playing style, which involved denying spaces in the and around the back four, chasing lost balls and playing with a narrow midfield. And this style is something that was used to get rid of big club’s subjective, possession based playing style. And this is the primary reason why the Premier League is as competitive as it is.
The high pressing style is something Guardiola has begun to adhere to increasingly. And this playing style is the new brand of football, which is being deemed successful with the help of Tottenham’s Mauricio Pochetinno, Liverpool’s Jurgen Klopp, Bayer Leverkusen’s Roger Schmidt and former Marseille manager Marcelo Bielsa.
Even West Ham and Leicester themselves have successfully used this tactic to win balls high up the pitch to score. Louis van Gaal failed when he used the possession based style during his two-year tenure at Man United and Arsene Wenger’s failures about winning the title from a similar style.
It’s quite agreeable that the counter-pressing or the high pressing style of football is more yielding than the possession based one. Guardiola’s love for the tiki-taka has to erode if the first one is to come in.
At both Bayern and Barcelona, Guardiola has inculcated values about being low-profile into the side. Especially at Barcelona, where the likes of Lionel Messi, Xavi and Andres Iniesta always remained low profile despite being world-renowned superstars.
And this was probably the reason why Pep never figured out Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s role at the club, when the Swede’s attitude was completely contrasting with the trio. Zlatan describes Guardiola as someone who can’t control strong personalities, which is why he liked his players to keep their lives off the pitch private, irrespective of their achievements on the pitch.
Zlatan has never been a character like that. He puffs out his chest and has his own swagger altogether. And this difference in approach to life was a reason why the then record signing was sold in a season by the Catalans.
At City, he will have to handle personalities who won’t necessarily be used to such kind of treatment. And Manchester City are a club which are still in the making and need changes to make them the Champions of England again. Ilkay Gundogan is someone who suits the playing style that Guardiola wants and apart from being very good on the ball, he’s really good off the ball as well.
The German is injury prone, but only destiny knows what awaits him.
In a league in which upsets happen every week and tactical battles take the form of physical battles, imposing one’s own style and domination will be really tough. And if Guardiola’s old values, styles and tactics exist, Manchester City would be left to rue the decision they have made.