Pep Guardiola is one of the finest managers in the game; there is little opposition to that claim. The Manchester City manager belongs in the realm of gaffers who have changed the way the game is played.
Guardiola surely finds himself in esteemed company alongside the likes of Arrigo Sachhi, Johan Cruyff and Marcelo Bielsa among others. In 11 full seasons as a manager, Pep Guardiola has amassed an incredible 29 major trophies, which includes an unprecedented sextuple with arguably the greatest club side ever. What might scare his contemporaries is that Pep Guardiola hasn't even celebrated his 50th birthday yet.
Manchester City, after being taken over by Abu Dhabi United Group, have gone from strength to strength. After the initial phase of spending on less fruitful prospects like Robinho, Santa Cruz and Emmanuel Adebayor, Manchester City have established themselves as an elite club over the past decade under the tutelages of Roberto Mancini, Manuel Pellegrini and now Pep Guardiola.
However, given the misfortune that has befallen other potential mega-clubs like AS Monaco and Anzhi Makhachkala, it is praiseworthy that Manchester City have had a near-seamless journey to the top. The state-of-the-art Manchester City Football Academy is a testament to the commitment made by Sheikh Mansour and his entourage.
Pep Guardiola and Manchester City: A match made in heaven?
This coming together of Pep Guardiola and Manchester City has so far been extremely beneficial to all stakeholders involved.
Under the reign of Khaldoon Al-Mubarak, Txiki Begiristain, Ferran Soriano and Pep Guardiola, Manchester City won the Premier League in 2018, becoming the only Premier League team to attain 100 points in a single season. In 2019, they won four trophies, completing an unprecedented sweep of all domestic trophies in England, in the process becoming the first English club team to win the domestic treble.
In the 2018–19 season, Manchester City (€568.4 million) had the fifth-highest revenue among all football clubs in the world. In 2019, Forbes estimated that Manchester City were the fifth-most valuable football club in the world, valued at $2.69 billion. So what next for this ambitious project?
What is the criticism of Pep Guardiola at Manchester City?
Despite all his achievements at Manchester City, a Champions League win with the Sky Blues still eludes Pep Guardiola, a decade on from his last triumph in the competition with Barcelona.
Guardiola's Manchester City have never gone further than the final eight of the competition, falling short against supposedly 'lesser' clubs like AS Monaco and Lyon.
Pep Guardiola has time and again come under criticism for the constant tweaking of his side which robs Manchester City of any momentum going into the business end of the season. Although the management have reinstated their trust in the former Barcelona manager by agreeing a new deal with him that would keep Pep Guardiola at Manchester City till 2023, fans are running out of patience given that the Spanish tactician has spent over $1 billion since his arrival in ‘Cottonopolis’.
The road ahead for Pep Guardiola at Manchester City
So, after securing another couple of years in the dugout at the Etihad, where does Pep Guardiola go from here?
Well, first and foremost, he should start by addressing the attrition issues in the squad. So far, Manchester City have done a decent job of moving on from stars like Pablo Zabaleta, Joe Hart, Yaya Toure and David Silva. However, the replacements of these Cityzen legends - be it a faltering Claudio Bravo, a fish-out-of-water John Stones or the non-dynamic Ilkay Gundogan - have often underperformed.
In the past two seasons, the bulk of the problems for Manchester City have been at the back. The departure of long-time captain Vincent Kompany and the recurring injuries to Aymeric Laporte have meant that Manchester City ceded ground to Liverpool, who won their first league title in 30 years.
The purchases of Joao Cancelo and Ruben Diaz seem like a step in the right direction, but Manchester City still have a long way to go if they are to build a dynasty and challenge for a potential quadruple. For that to happen, Manchester City will need to jettison a few of their 'deadwood' and bring in new players.
Five players Manchester City need to jettison:
The Brazilian completes seven years at the Etihad this season, and there is no doubt that Fernandinho will forever be part of Manchester City's folklore, as he has been a dependable soldier whenever he has been called upon.
That makes another year-long extension for the Brazilian not out of the question, but if Pep Guardiola truly wants to move on, he will have to let go of the former Shakhtar Donetsk star, who has evidently lost a yard last season.
A world champion and a multiple Premier League winner, Benjamin Mendy sure boasts an impressive resume given the amount of time he has spent on the pitch. Since being signed by Manchester City after a very promising season as part of the historic AS Monaco side of 2017, the Frenchman has only declined. With constant injuries blighting the left back's stay at the club, it would be good for Manchester City to move Mendy on when they still can.
La Masia graduate Eric Garcia has made it clear that he is keen on a homecoming and has no intention of prolonging his career in England.
With the departure of Garcia, Manchester City would lose a promising ball-playing centre-back who has shown the promise of leading his national side in the future. However, with Aymeric Laporte, Brahim Diaz, John Stones and Nathan Ake in their ranks, it is safe to say that Pep Guardiola's team are well-sorted in this area of the pitch.
Ilkay Gundogan could be deemed the quintessential Pep Guardiola player, given his wide range of passing and effortless ball control.
When Gundogan joined from Borussia Dortmund in 2016, Gundogan was considered one of the top-5 players in his position. However, the midfielder has not been able to lock down a berth in the Manchester City starting eleven, and the biggest reason for that could be his inability to adapt to the physicality of play in the Premier League.
It could be argued that Riyad Mahrez has barely put a foot wrong during his time at the Etihad. He has responded when called upon and has been a big-game player for Manchester City.
However, his performances have been a far cry from what fans had seen of him at Leicester City. Mahrez's departure from Manchester City could work best for both parties, as the Algerian enters his prime, and the club could use a more versatile attacker in the team.
Five players Manchester City need to bring in:
It is reported that Pep Guardiola was a fan of the full-back, when Alejandro Grimaldo plied his trade for the Barcelona youth teams during his teenage years. The Spaniard has since transformed into one of the best left-backs in Europe but has surprisingly gone unnoticed by any of the major clubs. The La Masia graduate would slot right into the Manchester City starting eleven and would deliver where Benjamin Mendy and Oleksandr Zinchenko have come up short.
Hailing from the borough of Hillingdon, Tariq Lamptey has spent almost the entirety of his playing career at Chelsea after recently making the switch to Brighton & Hove Albion.
The 20-year-old has made a lot of heads turn with some breathtaking performances for the Eagles this term. Lamptey's promise puts him in the same echelon of full-backs as the likes of Trent Alexander Arnold and Joshua Kimmich, and it would make sense for Manchester City to swoop him up before the other big boys take notice of the player.
For the 25-year-old Kalvin Phillips of Leeds United, the verdict may already be out, with many claiming that he is a player of mid-table pedigree at best. However, with Leeds making their return to the top flight, the home-grown talent has been a beacon of consistency for Marcelo Bielsa's side.
Phillips could provide a no-nonsense and steely profile to Manchester City's midfield, one that the club could use to grind out cup results. The England international can play in various positions and could be the utility man at a side that has faced a bevvy of injury problems of late.
Canadian Jonathan David has always attracted scouts ever since his exploits as a teenager plying his trade in the Belgian league.
The 20-year-old David has already cemented a place in Canada's starting XI. The Lille forward can play in a plethora of positions across the frontline with the same effectiveness.
Sergio Aguero has spent an increasing amount of time out on the sidelines, which has in turn hampered Manchester City's indifferent start to the season. A versatile attacker like David could sort these injury woes for good.
Pep Guardiola legendary tactics and man-management prowess
Pep Guardiola can be credited for the way the game has evolved ever since he began his tenure as a manager at his boyhood club: be it the tiki-taka-based Barcelona side led by Lionel Messi or Phillip Lahm marshalling the famous 'Gegenpressen' (counter-pressing) from the middle of the pitch.
After a lot of critics dismissed his chances of replicating his success in the Premier League in the aftermath of a disappointing first year at the Etihad, Pep Guardiola led Manchester City to once unimaginable feats like a 100-point league campaign and winning all three domestic English trophies in a single season.
Some writers and fans also credit Pep Guardiola for the FIFA World Cup triumphs of the Spanish and German national teams, citing the Manchester City manager's successful stints in the respective leagues.
His approach to tactics such as 'take the ball, pass, the ball', 'six-second recovery', positional pressing, the use of inverted wing-backs or an insistence on having a sweeper keeper who is as comfortable on the ball as an outfield player are all examples of the revolution in playing style across football that Pep Guardiola has brought forth.
Then there is also Pep Guardiola's use of players with exemplary individual quality such as deploying Lionel Messi in a 'false 9' role to devastating effect, transforming Javier Mascherano into one the most consistent centre backs, etc.
At Bayern Munich, Pep Guardiola deployed Phillip Lahm as a central midfielder and went on to do the same with Joshua Kimmich; the latter has since evolved into a world-class player capable of playing in multiple positions.
At Manchester City, Pep Guardiola came under heavy criticism for getting rid of club legend Joe Hart and spending extensively on full-backs, but all naysayers have since been silenced.
Does Pep Guardiola need to rejig his tactics at Manchester City?
Despite his legendary tactics that have yielded rich dividends, Pep Guardiola has not won the UEFA Champions League in almost a decade, having spent more than a billion pounds during this period. Bad luck, overthinking of tactics and excess rotation of the starting eleven are all mooted as possible reasons why Pep Guardiola has failed to conquer the Champions League.
As of 2020, the world of football has moved on from the Spanish school of thought that emphasises horizontal passing, use of inside forwards and lining up players with great skill on the ball but with little physical presence.
Football, ever since Liverpool reached the Champions League final in 2018, has evolved to a more German school of thought which the likes of Jupp Heynckes, Jurgen Klopp and lately Hansi Flick have used to devastating effect.
The system involves playing a very high line of defence and man-to-man press in the team's own half, employing marauding wing-backs and delivering long diagonal balls to wingers who have great 1v1 skill.
It could be argued that the game has returned to a more traditional way of being played, as teams have largely figured out the tactics of the Spanish tactician that were hailed as an evolution less than a decade ago.
A 4-2-3-1 formation is the order of the day, with radical formations such as a 3-4-3 or 3-5-2 failing in recent seasons; even the ever-reliant 4-3-3 has been scarcely deployed.
The number 10 role behind the striker has become extinct, with teams preferring to use a double pivot accompanied by a number 8. This is the ground reality of things, and Pep Guardiola will have to mould his Sky Blues in this manner if he wishes to impose his presence on world-class opposition, similar to how Liverpool and Bayern Munich have done in recent years.
The Lionel Messi Dilemma: Should Manchester City sign the player?
Keeping in mind all the points discussed in the previous paragraphs, a 34-year-old Lionel Messi is a luxury Pep Guardiola and Manchester City cannot afford.
The Argentine may arguably be the greatest player to have played the game, but father time spares no one. The Barcelona ace has struggled for fitness this term, and his defensive work rate has gone for a toss.
Like Arsene Wenger recently suggested, the game today is more in favour of a Cristiano Ronaldo than a Lionel Messi. What he meant by that is that a Ronaldo or Ibrahimovic can excel and be effective in their late 30s. That is because both are strikers who can play as the furthest players on the pitch who have no defensive duties and are able to hold up play and finish moves due to their imposing physical frames. Furthermore, their styles do not require pace as a prerequisite.
However, Messi, throughout his career, has been a player highly dependent on his ability to accelerate with the ball at his feet, taking on a lot of players and leaving them for dead in his wake.
The 6-time Ballon D’or has since changed his game to that of a supplier, making a record number of assists in the La Liga last season as his goal tally dwindled. What that has meant for Barcelona is that they have to accommodate for two players who will not fall back when countered: a finisher of Lionel Messi’s passes and the Argentine himself.
That effectively rules them out of imposing an effective press or starting quick counterattacks, both of which have become the biggest requirements of all elite football teams.
Moreover, coupled with the physicality of the Premier League, Lionel Messi, the 10-time La Liga winner, could have a torrid time if he were to make a move to the Etihad.
There is also the problem of Manchester City having their best players - namely Kevin De Bruyne and Phil Foden - in positions ‘La Pulga’ would potentially occupy,. Thus, it would be a better bet for both parties to put this reunion to bed once and for all.
Would Pep Guardiola complete his unfinished business at Manchester City?
Pep Guardiola has his work cut out for him, as he plots a Champions League triumph for Manchester City.
For all his achievements and multiple contributions to the beautiful game, Pep Guardiola enters his 2-year stint at Manchester City as a man under intense scrutiny, as fans and pundits alike have asked the question if Guardiola is indeed as good as he is made out to be.
Considered by many to be the greatest tactician to have ever graced the touchline, Pep Guardiola's failure to bring European glory to Bayern Munich and now City threatens to taint his rich legacy.
Pep Guardiola has two years to complete his unfinished business at the Etihad. How he fares at the club during this period, and possibly beyond, remains an unfinished chapter at the moment: one that could be his biggest challenge yet.Published 27 Nov 2020, 00:52 IST