Following Manchester City’s jittery 2-1 victory over Burnley and before the 5-0 demolition of West Ham, there was a sense of frustration building with Pep Guardiola. There have been a lot of complaints about the manager’s tinkering this season, particularly his switching from four-at-the-back to a three. Four seemed to be working perfectly well but then the Spaniard altered his system, deploying the likes of Jesus Navas and Leroy Sane in unfamiliar wing-back positions.
It might have seemed peculiar on the surface and somewhat unnecessary. Why is he playing these players here? They were not equipped to be in these positions, it seemed. But the change was all about the development of the individuals and their versatility.
At Bayern Munich, David Alaba was an out-and-out left back before Guardiola morphed him into a very accomplished centre-back. Soon after, Joshua Kimmich’s passing qualities were realised in defence as opposed to midfield.
There seems to have been a great deal of outrage in the media surrounding Guardiola. They don’t understand why he hasn’t he compromised his style when City are leaking goals and not playing well. This frustration with his alleged “stubbornness” is much more frustrating than any bad results.
In life, if you want to hit the top, you have to make those initial sacrifices. You don’t see this often in football because there is no time given in the modern game. This is a project which needs time to work, and it is likely that the powers that be at the club will be patient. Guardiola will not be sacked if City miss out on the Champions League this season because the understanding is in place that they are building for something greater.
By the 2018-19 season, City will be playing beautiful passing football and making minimal mistakes. They will be integrated into so many different formations and systems, with different players able to play in so many different positions, that opponents simply won’t know how to counter them.
Müller on Pep
Thomas Müller summarised this point well. A few months ago, he told reporter Alexander Barklage: ‘[Pep] made us better tactically.’ He claimed Bayern went into matches feeling that they were always in ‘complete control,’ even against teams like Dortmund.
‘Thomas Tuchel is also a great coach, who can react immediately to situations, but we always had the right answer.’
“The right answer” is the key phrase. When the Spaniard has a squad brimming with versatile players, able to play in a variety of set-ups, there are no limits to the ways that the team can play. Not only will he able to conquer England, but he will give Europe a challenge as well. He will have those ‘right answers,’ because he will have learned from his wrong answers.
The counter here is that Guardiola’s success was at Bayern and Barcelona. This should be noted. Nevertheless, the way players feel they had improved during his tenure should also be taken into account. City don’t quite have that personnel yet, but they will get them, either through transfers or the manager’s player development. If fans can accept a potentially frustrating short-term period, they can reap in the rewards when they inevitably arrive. Patience is the key.