Manchester City’s 6-3 Boxing Day win over Leicester City showed again how Pep Guardiola’s ideology can be so difficult to play against, no matter the quality of the opposition.
The former Barcelona and Bayern Munich boss has enjoyed huge domestic success in all three jobs, and he implemented a similar system when his Blaugrana side became one of the best teams in the history of the game.
Manchester City, however, is perhaps Guardiola’s most impressive interpretation of his tactics, with much of his success coming without a recognised striker.
No other coach has been able to replicate Guardiola’s narrow full-backs since he introduced the concept to the Premier League when he joined City.
Both left- and right-backs often become central midfielders when they are in possession, making them particularly difficult to mark, with the opposition wingers caught in two minds.
Some will follow the full-back into the centre of the pitch, opening space out wide where City’s high and wide wingers can attack their opposite number one-on-one, others stay rigid in their shape and help their full-back which leaves City a huge numbers overload in the centre of the pitch.
This, along with the two central defenders and the holding midfielder, creates the point of the triangle with sweeper-keeper Ederson often acting as a third defender.
Midfield pushing on
With the full-backs squished in, the midfield has the licence to push onto the defenders of the opposition which creates confusion for any defence.
Not only do the midfielders push towards the defence but they can go beyond the final wall and make runs in behind in an attempt to open up the opposition resistance.
It’s a system that perfectly executed one of Pep’s football premises, an idea that he captured in the book – Pep Confidential – a work by Marti Perarnau published in 2014, during his time at Bayern Munich.
“The idea is to have the centre open, the side inside and the end open to pass directly to him. If the pass goes well you have managed to jump the entire centre of the enemy field; if you lose the ball, your full back can run the space immediately,” Pararneu writes.
“It is to change your behaviour plans to pressure the opponent. Lateral- Our goes inward and drags the opponent’s end, if this is not followed, then you already have a free man, if who will cover him is the midfield, then our interior will be free. And so on all the time.”