Now or never for Man City under world’s best Guardiola
Matt Haynes | February 2, 2016
They say ‘three is the magic number’. In this instance, with this trio of Txiki Begiristain, Ferran Soriano and now, finally, Pep Guardiola, Manchester City may as well already re-brand with confidence.
A simple strap-line of ‘The Etihad Stadium: Where the magic happens’, would be preemptively appropriate. With the dream team now reunited (as of summer 2016 at least), progress should no longer be prohibitive.
Recommencing a blossoming success story well deserving of a sequel, the main characters remain the same, though the plot is likely to have more twists.
The scene already set, this begins with key protagonist Guardiola figuring out who else joins him on his journey. Final destination? The footballing Gods.
There are interesting sub-plots. Will Lionel Messi link up with his former mentor? At this point, there is no telling, though one man has perhaps, never been more synonymous with a football club. Think Barcelona right now, up pops Messi.
While a £150m war chest inspires intrigue, perhaps the biggest question is what will Guardiola do differently to Manuel Pellegrini?
At Barca, he built his football philosophy utilising a 4-3-3 formation, with a fluid frontline. Perhaps simply lucky to have the homegrown players of Sergio Busquets, Xavi Hernandez and Andres Iniesta as his first choice midfield, these are arguably the best deeper three to ever play together in history.
Anything like this is highly unlikely to ever be repeated. As such, at Bayern Munich, he has been forced into a new approach, mixing aesthetic beauty with counter-attacking and power.
Although Thiago Alcantara (signed by Guardiola from Barcelona) and Mario Gotze embody similar traits to Xavi and Iniesta, they haven’t yet been able to get anywhere near the latter duo in terms of ability.
In Robert Lewandowski and Thomas Muller, while both perhaps unconventional in physique to form the kind of attack he did at Barca, where fluidity and telepathy triumphed, there is no doubt this combination is effective.
At City, who are 12/1 to win the Champions League this term, he will have, arguably the best all-round number nine/trequartista in the world in Sergio Aguero (despite the player wearing 10). Under Pellegrini, the club play a 4-2-3-1 with the Argentinian surrounded by a triumvirate of Kevin De Bruyne, David Silva and Raheem Sterling.
The former and latter arrived last summer and have been a huge hit. Whether Guardiola tweaks this back to a 4-3-3 remains to to be seen and depends on who he brings in.
No to Yaya?
Assuming he is happy with what he has to work with in the final third, there is no doubt that Guardiola will want to address the situation in deep-lying midfield.
He was in charge of Barcelona when he decided to let Yaya Toure complete his move to Man City, where the Ivory Coast midfielder developed into one of the best box-to-box talents in the world.
However, Guardiola, isn’t typically a fan of this type of player, which also leaves a question mark surrounding Fernandinho who often accompanies Toure in that midfield pivot.
What could seem the most likely is that the Spaniard decides to bring in a specialist defensive, cultured midfielder in the form of Busquets to sit in front of the defence and dictate from deep.
Moving De Bruyne and Silva back to form an energetic two in front, like he did with Xavi and Iniesta would mean Sterling plus, perhaps a new signing could flank Aguero in what can become an interchanging trio.
Emphasis here would be on unpredictability, eventually ensuring that defenders don’t know whether they will occupy wide or narrow areas during matches. Whichever, we have seen, especially while he was at Barcelona, that Guardiola likes attacking full backs to provide his width and there is definite scope for this here.
Issues remain over skipper Vincent Kompany and how long he can stay fit during a season, though with the new coach’s training methods, this may change and the Spaniard will no doubt also want to work on forging a solid centre back relationship between the Belgian and Nicolas Otamendi who arrived at the Etihad last summer.
Guardiola is undoubtedly the right fit for City and is their best chance of ensuring that they win the Champions League, or even completing an unprecedented quadruple. While it may take a while for any magic to happen, the Spaniard’s sides do have a habit of leaving you spellbound.