In just 3 months since Manchester City’s first Premier League game against Sunderland, Pep Guardiola has transformed the way that City play football, with both his 4-3-3 tactical formation, that has lead him to so much success at Barcelona and Bayern Munich, but also the way in which he has revitalised the players, most notably Raheem Sterling.
Few would have been surprised that City started off the 2016/2017 Premier League campaign with relative success yet their incredibly dominant start with a run of 10 straight wins has astonished many, considering that the introduction of a new manager can cause rifts in the team and a lack of familiarity, for example see Manchester United’s opening game loss at Swansea in the 2014/2015 campaign under Louis Van Gaal. However, Pep, who used 3 different formations at Bayern last season, has tactically enhanced City’s game by introducing a more fluid, attacking style which has seen a vast increase of counter-attacks during games, demonstrated superbly in the 3-1 win against Swansea. He has also shipped off players who were not of the standard he required, including Wilfried Bony, Samir Nasri and most markedly Joe Hart, instead drafting in new, more versatile players such as Ilkay Gundogan from Borussia Dortmund and Nolito from Celta Vigo.
Tactically, he has positioned Fernandinho as a holding midfielder, and with the movements between the central defenders Stones and Otamendi, which allows Fernandinho to drop back, this has created the opportunity for City to be able to move the ball from the back third towards players with goal-scoring opportunities more effectively.
The most interesting and significant change of form under the guide of Guardiola has been Raheem Sterling, who had a poor season the previous year, scoring only 10 goals and thus being labelled as overpriced. However, with Guardiola’s help, including a personal phone call from him in the summer to boost Sterling’s confidence after a disappointing European Championship, Sterling has looked like a new player this season, with Guardiola’s winning mentality and encouragement triggering Sterling’s status as one of Guardiola’s key men, with him already scoring 5 goals up to the start of October. He has also transformed into a central player in the team, intimidating the defence with his speed and control and assisting his team mates.
Guardiola has also had a massive indirect impact on City’s playing style as a team by implementing some new rules which have rejuvenated City. For example, the night before home games at the Etihad Stadium, the team are allowed to stay home rather than spend the night at the CFA headquarters. New dietary requirements have also been introduced, with lots of foods such as pizza and certain juices prohibited after matches. With Samir Nasri told that he was overweight and consequently banned from training with the squad, and Yaya Toure, who has been excluded from the squad for not performing at Guardiola’s expected level, it is clear that this strict new regime is forcing the players to train harder, and better themselves regularly, which is evident on the pitch.
Sterling has looked like a new player this season
Another of Pep’s radical tactics to strengthen the solidarity of the team has been to cut off WiFi access at the training ground in order to strengthen face-to face communication. This tactic has led to City no longer playing like 11 individuals disguised as a team, which is one factor why they only just held onto 4th place last season.
Therefore, it is clear that Pep Guardiola’s way of playing football, which is notably influenced by Johan Cruyff, whose legacy Pep is carrying on in Manchester, has prompted positive and most importantly successful changes in City’s game plan. His belief in the significance of keeping possession and attacking football has led to City pressing high up the pitch with short but precise passes. He is an advocator of flexibility and adaptability, with players such as the full-backs even forced to play in different positions both in training and in matches, to make them more versatile.
Despite an away loss against Tottenham and a draw to Celtic in the Champions League, Pep Guardiola is a manager who does not simply look at winning the next game, but instead has an outlined plan for the future. And with City still in pole position in the Premier League table, it will be interesting to see how Guardiola’s tactical revolution continues.