We met the ‘Special One’, when Jose Mourinho charmed his way into the Premier League, then the ‘Normal One’ as Jurgen Klopp announced his arrival in 2015.
And then came Pep.
Mourinho and Klopp have been huge influences on the English game and, in days gone by, former Arsenal head coach Arsene Wenger was credited with moving the Premier League culture forward with his calm and erudite professionalism.
You have to admire Guardiola. He dominated the Bundesliga and La Liga as a head coach, but many fans and pundits thought the Premier League might prove to be too big a challenge. But two league titles, an FA Cup and three consecutive EFL Cups suggest he was more than ready.
Evolution of a visionary
English football has been centred on winning the second ball for decades, but Pep’s team’s don’t leave things to chance; they keep the ball and fill up spaces in possession. This was a philosophy developed by the great Johan Cruyff, first as a player and then as head coach of Barcelona. Guardiola was a deep-lying midfielder in Cruyff’s side which won the club’s first European Cup in 1992 and four successive La Liga titles from 1991 to 1994.
Pep learned while he played for Cruyff and he had his own inventive ideas to work with too, concentrating on structure and energy out of possession and freedom in the final third. He carried on Cruyff’s work at Barcelona, changed the Bundesliga as boss of FC Bayern and he has done the same in England.
While other teams have watched and imitated, to varying degrees, he too has adapted, learning to cope with the second ball tactics of teams like Burnley, or in Spain Atletico Madrid.
The effect was a history-making first season, winning the Premier League title while amassing a record 100 points. Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool was the first to respond and have benefited hugely from the challenge of competing with a team with the highest of standards. The 2019 Premier League title race was the most exciting in recent history, as the Sky Blues eventually won with 98 points to Liverpool’s 97.
Even before the temporary suspension of football due to the coronavirus the Premier League chances for Klopp to guide his team to the title had shrunk out of sight.
It’s a done deal.
All credit to Liverpool but there’s no denying Guardiola is targeting the Champions League, a trophy which eluded him at Bayern.
Losing the Manchester Derby certainly wasn’t part of Pep’s plan but here at SBOTOP we’re backing him to lift the 2020 Champions League.
Style and substance
Guardiola experiments with innovative formations but his philosophy is always around the three components of play, possession and position. It relies on the continual movement of the ball, care in possession but staying where you should be on the pitch. Only in the final third are his players encouraged to roam freely, and when you see City attacking, as the ball reaches the bi-line you’ll invariably count five or six players in or around the penalty area.
Once the ball is in the final third he trusts his players to finish the job, but in the other two thirds the players know their job. Former France and Barca striker Thierry Henry discovered that to his cost, being hauled off at half time after he strayed onto the opposite wing in the first half of a match against Sporting Lisbon, and he had already scored!
At Manchester City Kevin de Bruyne is the epitome of a Pep Guardiola player. The Belgian ace has his own chapter in the Premier League 2020 highlights package. He’s made 16 assists already, four more than the prolific Trent Alexander-Arnold and twice as many as the third man, his City team-mate Riyad Mahrez.
But when the Sky Blues are out of possession he fills his space and presses the opposition.
Playing out from the back doesn’t work for everyone
Norwich City have played some attractive football on their return to the Premier League. Head coach Daniel Farke insisted he wouldn’t compromise his team’s swift passing and attacking game. They were the pre-season favourites to take the drop back to the Championship and despite some game performances they have been rooted at the bottom for much of the season.
To play Pep’s game you need the best, well organised back four, midfielders who can find the killer pass and strikers who rarely miss.
Only a few teams can guarantee success by playing out from the back.
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