How Guardiola Turned City’s Season Around With Space Manipulation
With Man City now crowned as Premier League champions, we look back at how Pep Guardiola drove the tactical change that led his team to triumph.
During Guardiola’s 13-year coaching career, concepts like the functionality of players over their role, collective participation, different variations of ball possession and the value of transitions have all become part of the way we think and imagine the game. We’re talking about a manager who’s been an unbelievable driver of change. Not only has he led consistently successful teams, winning loads of trophies, but he has also changed the archetypes of how we think about the game in terms of strategies and tactics.
One of the most fascinating things about Guardiola is his ability to suddenly shuffle all his certainties. Guardiola comes up with a new, innovative, unpredictable solution all at once, just like an illusionist keeping the audience’s attention on a decoy while getting ready for his big coup de théâtre. Every time we think we have seen everything – or that his ‘overthinking’ is limiting the performance of his team, a new masterpiece arrives.
The worst-ever start of the season of his career led Guardiola to call some aspects of his Manchester City into question. Not by setting aside everything he had tried and the existing dynamics with the team, but rather moving a few tiles in order for the whole mechanism to work smoother, creating new dynamics and either getting new ideas together or bringing old solutions back. For example, the usage of the inverted fullback, the ‘false fullback’ leaving its classic position to play beside the central midfielder – or in the ‘half-space’ – has been one of the most distinctive traits of his team. But it’s not a brand-new concept as he already used it when at Bayern Munich.
The choice not to play classic strikers is one of the oldest strategies of his career and the even more radical choice of playing two ‘false nines’ had already been tried with Manchester City before, during the UEFA Champions League round-of-16 match against Zidane’s Real Madrid. During that game, Bernardo Silva and De Bruyne started from a central position to then lie deep beside Casemiro and avoid the Blancos’ pressure.
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