Since joining Manchester City, Pep Guardiola has ruffled more than a few feathers. From shipping out club legend Joe Hart to Torino and consigning Yaya Toure to the reserves, the former Barcelona and Bayern Munich manager has shown that he’s not afraid to discard the biggest names in his quest for success.
We’ve taken a look at how Guardiola’s style has evolved from his success-laden spell as manager of Barcelona to his early tactical tweaks at Manchester City, via Munich.
Upon becoming the manager of his boyhood club Barcelona at the start of the 2008/09 season, Guardiola’s remit was to make the Catalan giants kings of Europe again. With just a year’s experience in management (for Barcelona B), this process was expected to take a number of seasons. Remarkably, Barcelona won every competition they entered, romping home with six trophies and playing some of the most tactically advanced football ever seen in the process.
The side Guardiola inherited featured some stellar but underachieving names. Players like Ronaldinho and Deco were hugely gifted footballers, but perhaps lacked the discipline to play in Guardiola’s preferred fluid style. So out the door they went, as he imposed a possession-based 4-3-3 formation with a high pressing and short passing style, known as “tiki-taka”.
Guardiola’s tiki-taka shared Dutch Total Football’s high defensive line, fluid positioning and use of possession to control the game. However, rather than playing with a conventional centre-forward to lead the line, Lionel Messi was given a free, roaming “false nine” role, often dropping into pockets of space behind defenders to create room for attacking midfielders like Iniesta and Pedro to cause havoc in the box.
Victor Valdes was deployed as a “sweeper keeper”, often quick off his line to break up opposition attacks, full-backs were pushed higher up the pitch and defensive midfielders like Javier Mascherano were converted to centre-backs due to their passing ability. Central midfielder Xavi was the chief conductor, creating intricate triangles of one-touch passes which usually caused the opposition to spend 90 minutes chasing shadows.
After four years at Barca, winning three La Liga titles and two Champions League trophies in that period, Guardiola upped sticks and headed to the Bundesliga to manage Bayern Munich, who had just won the treble. Guardiola demonstrated more tactical flexibility in Germany, playing with a more traditional centre-forward up front in first Mario Mandzukic, then Robert Lewandowski, and he was willing to be more direct when required.
Free from pressure to play the ball on the ground at all costs in Barcelona, German football’s more pragmatic, results-driven style allowed Guardiola to experiment with a number of different selections. During the 2014/15 season, Bayern lined up in 10 different formations: from the free-flowing 4-3-3 style he used at Barca, to various systems with three defenders, including a very attacking 3-1-4-2. In one match against Bayer Leverkusen, Bayern won 3-0 playing a 3-4-3 diamond with three full-backs in central defence (Phillip Lahm, David Alaba and Juan Bernat).
Against Manchester United in April 2014, Guardiola played Lahm and Alaba as “inverted full-backs” that drifted inside to dominate the centre of the pitch in possession. Exceptional in defence and attack, Alaba was often utilised in a role with three functions in one: left-back, left winger and attacking midfield playmaker.
Some view Guardiola’s time in Bavaria as a relative failure as he didn’t manage to win the Champions League, but Bayern still won three titles in three years while playing some scintillating football.
Evolution at the Etihad
So far, so Pep at Manchester City, with the Spaniard already boasting a derby day victory over bitter rivals Manchester United (and Jose Mourinho). Guardiola has continued to tinker with his tactics at the Etihad, converting attacking full-back Aleksandar Kolarov to centre-back, and shifting full-backs Bacary Sagna and Gael Clichy to central midfield when City have the ball, giving freedom to the front five attackers to terrorise opposition defences.
With less talented players at his disposal than at Barcelona and Bayern Munich, Guardiola faces a real challenge to establish Manchester City as a European giant, but the early signs are certainly promising.