Manchester City are cruising to the title. In a dominant season so far, Pep Guardiola’s side have seemingly sealed the title race halfway through the season, and a collapse from here is improbable. Having been in charge for 18 months, Guardiola has transformed Manchester City and made revolutionary changes to English football. The results are now evident, as City are on course to become the most successful team in English league history.
Adopting and adapting to Guardiola’s methods take time, effort and resources. In his first season, he was widely criticised for failing to win any silverware, which is a testament to his reputation, but now in his second, he has been given the resources by the loaded Manchester City board, and the rewards are coming. Having spent over £200 million on players that would fit his specific style, City are introducing a unique, innovative style of football that has been largely appreciated by the footballing fraternity. And although this may seem unethical, this ambition is being given the maximum support.
Manchester City are Doing Things the Pep Guardiola Way
Manchester City’s dominance is appalling. After 19 matches, the league leader over the last five seasons has 44.4 points on average, and over the last ten seasons, it drops to 44.2. Manchester City have 55 out of a possible 57. They are a team that are miles ahead of average, and midway through this season, Guardiola has silenced his doubters. City are on a historic run, and this will only cement Guardiola’s legacy in English football.
Building From the Back
Pep Guardiola’s philosophy requires individuals to be at their maximum for the whole team to progress. Starting off from the back, the signing of Ederson from Benfica has been of paramount importance. Guardiola’s goalkeepers must be equally good with their feet as they are with their hands. Take Victor Valdes at Barcelona or Manuel Neuer at Bayern Munich, it’s a style that is of utmost priority. And in addition to that, it is in demand in Guardiola’s brand of football.
Starting attacks from the back or breaking high presses, Ederson has been one of the best signings this season. His performance in City’s rout of Tottenham last week displayed his world-class qualities, and he constantly exposed Mauricio Pochettino’s high-pressing Spurs and left them empty on their side of the pitch. He hasn’t only displayed his strengths with his hands this season, his reactions and movement have been top notch as well. And in addition to that, he’s a flag-bearer for the modern, revolutionary brand of goalkeeping that requires the men amongst the posts to be good with their feet as well, becoming one of the most enjoyable players to watch in the league.
In front of him stand the indomitable Kyle Walker and the unfortunate, albeit quality Benjamin Mendy. The two have had contrasting fortunes this season. While the former will miss most of the campaign, the Englishman has displayed his class once again this season. Walker is a blueprint for Guardiola’s methods. His performances this season against the likes of Chelsea and Manchester United have been outstanding – especially against the prior, where he was asked to play more centrally to allow freedom to his midfielders. A player as tactically and positionally aware as Walker is essential, and with him at the back, success is certain.
But what sets them apart from the rest is their strength in depth. City have a squad that can overcome most opponents, even with their fringe players. And while the likes of Bernardo Silva and Danilo may break into the first team soon, they are slowly learning their way into Guardiola’s philosophies while coming off the bench, and that quality in depth has earned City results on numerous occasions this season.
Improvements and Management
One of Pep Guardiola’s most exceptional traits is his ability to improve players. Several have become better over the last 18 months in ways that would’ve seemed unimaginable, and that is most clearly represented by Fabian Delph. A midfielder for most of his career, Delph has had to deputise at left-back and has been outstanding this season. Seemingly on his way out a few months ago, he has been shrewd. Astute defensively and smart offensively, unexpectedly becoming one of their best players this season.
Using the example of the Chelsea match from earlier in the season, Delph put his versatility to full effect. The two full-backs played more centrally to give the midfield pairing of Kevin de Bruyne and David Silva more protection and freedom, and subsequently overload the Chelsea set-up. It was a display of Guardiola’s intuitiveness and the two full-backs’ awareness that was crucial to City’s win.
Raheem Sterling has slowly transformed into one of the Premier League’s best wingers. For a player that consistently used to struggle in front of goal, he has now scored 12 already in the league, one short of his combined total for the previous two seasons, and 16 across all competitions – the most at the club this season. For years it was his private life that took the headlines, but now, he does his talking on the pitch and is pivotal to City’s hopes.
He’s also more influential without the goals. Still midway through the season, Sterling has a 60% take-on success rate, a record better than his two previous seasons. His approach to the game is also well-evident. A player usually criticised for showing a lack of hunger, Sterling has transformed into an ambitious, hungry winger unceasingly looking to be of effect for his side. Gone are the days where he seemed like a liability to Guardiola, as he’s now one of their most entertaining.
He is slowly entering the pantheon of great wingers Guardiola improved. Pedro and Alexis Sanchez at Barcelona were beneficiaries, while at Bayern, an unproven Douglas Costa and experienced Franck Ribéry have always been full of praise of the Spanish coach. His attacking style relies on his wingers, and Sterling is delivering greatly.
Vincent Kompany’s injury issues have troubled City for years. And while he has proven to be a fitter player in recent months, City have finally found two capable deputies. John Stones, a player that used to be scrutinised for failing to match expectations following a £50 million transfer from Everton last summer, has now become one of Guardiola’s most important assets. A player that initiates play from the back and breaks opposition lines with ease, he is now amongst the elite. Currently recovering from injury, he is sure to be at the top for a long time.
His other choice, Nicolás Otamendi, has gone through a similar phase. A rigid man at the back, he is also the Premier League’s highest-scoring defender and provides an immense presence from set-pieces. Together, they’ve proven to be rock solid in the absence of Kompany and that has contributed to City conceding the fewest goals in the league (12) and having an insane goal difference midway through the season (+48).
Kevin de Bruyne and David Silva take most of the plaudits, but here is a man equally as important. Fernandinho has gone away from his role as Manuel Pelligrini’s enforcer from midfield and adopted a more conventional task. Guardiola himself was a conductor from midfield, and that is a crucial feature of the teams he creates with Fernandinho taking up the task this time.
Unsurprisingly, with the role he has, he has completed the second-most passes at the club, successfully completing 90% of them. And when José Mourinho accused City of tactical fouling earlier in the season, he was most likely referring to the Brazilian’s antics, for he is the master of it. Guardiola creates his side around his conductor in midfield, and Fernandinho is perfect for the role. The player is perfecting the art of holding on and subsequently spreading the ball out, and while there hasn’t been a significant improvement for him, he has become indispensable to this impressive team.
Eye on the Future
Pep Guardiola has never stayed with a team for longer than four years. But with that in mind, he is developing a team capable of challenging the best. The City Football Group is taking advantage of their resources by buying the finest young players and sending them to City’s sister clubs – Pablo Maffeo and Douglas Luiz to Girona, for example, and Guardiola is the right man to help them grow.
The likes of Phil Foden and Patrick Roberts have always been praised by Guardiola, and with the coach’s attention to detail combined with his exceptional man-management, the side is only set to get better. Younger players currently in the first-team such as Gabriel Jesus and Leroy Sané have already become better and that trend is likely to continue for the foreseeable future.
And it’s not just the players. He took Mikel Arteta under his wing, and with guidance, he could just hone him for City in the future. The two share a similar philosophy, and under Guardiola’s tutelage, an internal promotion could be an option for City.
Manchester City could make history come May, and Pep Guardiola is carving his legacy in England. He is doing things right, making better players and creating exciting teams. And with this record, he is on course to become one of the most revolutionary figures in English football. England had to adapt to his methods, and they are now witnessing Pep Guardiola lay down a marker and further enhance his legend.