Pep Guardiola’s time at Manchester City has seen the winning of multiple major honours and the breaking of a Premier League landmark that some thought would stand forever.
Their 100-point tally to win the 2017/18 title ranks as Guardiola’s biggest achievement as City manager so far, and it was done with a significant change to how the team plays.
Guardiola has turned City into one of the most aesthetically pleasing sides the Premier League has seen, but that only scratches the surface of how good they have been over the last three seasons.
The Premier League is often claimed to be the toughest in the world, and Guardiola’s arrival at the Etihad prompted doubts that he’d be able to emulate the success he enjoyed with Barcelona and Bayern Munich in England.
A run of 10 consecutive wins in his first season as club boss helped ease those concerns, but it proved to be a false dawn as Guardiola’s side then fell away to eventually finish third, 15 points behind champions Chelsea.
For Guardiola to have success at the Etihad, it was clear he would need players more accustomed to playing his system.
A major limitation was the lack of quality at full-back, where both Pablo Zabaleta and Aleksandar Kolarov were past their physical peak.
The football we have become accustomed to seeing with City in the last couple of seasons was made possible by harnessing the talent already at the club, but also adding quality in certain areas.
Fans of other teams scoffed at the idea of spending almost £100m on Kyle Walker and Benjamin Mendy, but their respective skills have enabled Guardiola to create inverted full back roles that enables a highly complex system for the opposition to play against.
Kyle Walker in an advanced position for Manchester City (Image: Wyscout)
As shown above, we see how Walker adopts a position higher up the pitch and more infield to allow several passing options for attacking team-mates.
Such a system is not only difficult for opposing teams to counteract, it also shows the ingenuity of Guardiola’s tactical thinking.
The introduction of multiple attacking midfielders in key areas has also been an important part of City’s evolution.
If 2017/18 saw the club become the first to reach 100 points, last season’s title race and eventual success against Liverpool showed how effectively Guardiola’s tactics can dominate matches.
Kevin de Bruyne, David Silva, Bernardo Silva and others have all been used to great effect in high attacking areas in an unprecedented move from a tactical perspective.
Being able to engineer space for De Bruyne to cross from all areas of the pitch has been a major development of Guardiola’s system with more focus on the Belgian’s attacking output.
Kevin de Bruyne illustrates the City midfield press against Spurs. (Image: Wyscout)
As shown above, De Bruyne takes up a forward position versus Spurs but we can also see how many other players are allowed to attack in Guardiola’s system.
Such is the intensity of their press, allowing players to occupy key attacking areas is a relatively low-risk strategy when you consider their quality on the ball.
The tactical tweaks made so far this season have been limited, and rightly so given the success enjoyed prior to this campaign. Issues with injuries to key players, therefore, may show just how vital it is for Guardiola to have the right players available for his system to work.
To some extent, this could be viewed as a negative given that injury is such a frequent feature of the game. However, it also shows the complex level Guardiola is operating at from a tactical point of view.
Of all the great managers to have worked in the Premier League, it is difficult to think of one that has demonstrated more innovative thinking than the Spaniard.