Pep Guardiola: A manager who translates his philosophy into the football played
Manchester City have one of the brightest managers in world football but can he deploy his tactics in England?
Many a football fan misconstrue the true genius of Josep Guardiola. They say he had the best team in the world at Barcelona and he had virtually no equal opposition in Germany when he managed Bayern Munich. But from the heart of Catalonia, born and bred at La Masia comes a man with a highly practiced, thought about and executed football philosophy. The style of football ingrained by the late Johan Cryuff and preached and perfected by his ardent follower Pep Guardiola.
There is more than meets the eye to the tiki-taka we saw him implement so successfully. It is much more about position than meets the naked eye. The misconception is that it is purely a possession based strategy but contrary to popular belief the positioning of each player is vital to the style of football.
Generally in football theory, defenders are considered the pro-active ones i.e the defence determines how the football will be played on the pitch because the attackers react to the defence winning the ball back and then building out of that. Hence they react to the defence. Generally, through various schools of thought this is the accepted philosophy, but not for Guardiola. He has changed the philosophy.
In Guardiola’s teams, the offence is the pro-active unit. This unit presses high up the pitch in order to upset the balance of the game and win the ball back when they are without possession. In Guardiola’s teams, the defence reacts to the offence winning possession. Hence Guardiola’s defenders are very well known to venture all over the pitch and build attacks.
Guardiola’s teams act when they lose the ball rather than react to the phase of the game when they are without the ball. For his teams, it is all about control. Even when they are without the ball.
The press allows his teams to determine what the opposition will do when the opponents are in possession of the ball. Instead of dropping off and leaving to chance they are pro-active to determine how possession is won back. Being in possession of the ball is paramount, contrary to Mourinho’s style of conceding possession. Yet there are some similarities when it comes to positioning.
As Johan Cruyff said, “Do you know how Barcelona win the ball back so quickly? It’s because they don’t have to run back more than 10 metres as they never pass the ball more than 10 metres.”
While Mourinho draws his lines in his own half and positions his players accordingly, Pep Guardiola’s football pitch looks more or less like this.
The Italians know it as “Giochi di Posizione” which is fundamental to Italian defending, in English this method is simply known as “Positional Play”. These lines indicate how the game will be played. It is all about four reference points- the ball, the space, the opponent and your own teammates. Generally, it is about gaining superiority between the lines.
At each transition of play, the aim is to gain superiority i.e create more situations with a free man while attacking and create more situations of more men while defending. Numerical superiority is just one part of it, in fact, there is numerical, qualitative and positional superiority.
Qualitative superiority is one where the team aims to create more 1 v 1s and 2 v 2s. While positional superiority is one where the players are arranged in various heights and depths across the pitch and which translates to creating more interior spaces and passing lanes within the opposition formation. Guardiola’s pitch does exactly that.
Guardiola at Manchester City
Coming to the English game will certainly test Guardiola. He has not experienced the frenetic paced, Premier League with long balls, and pacy wingers delivering cross after cross. The English game is based on a direct style of play that completely bypasses phases of the pitch with the ball.
This will test Guardiola’s tactics in a way he has not experienced before. The game in Spain is slower and much more built up on keeping the ball which allows his players to execute his style of play. That being said, German football is the closest to the English game and Guardiola was a success there.
What he did for Bayern is well documented. His record speaks for itself, 14 trophies at Barcelona and 7 with Bayern.
At Manchester City, he will have David Silva who has implemented a similar style of play for La Roja (The Spanish National team). While in Sergio Aguero he has arguably one of the best strikers in the league. Another player who has blossomed into a genuine world beater is Kevin De Bryune who will complement Raheem Sterling and Jesus Navas going forward for City.
His purchase of Nolito will further implement his strategy and City look to be a formidable force going forward. His defence of Mangala and Kompany will have more work to do with the ball than before.
How Guardiola will implement his strategy successfully for City will be an intriguing spectacle to behold. And, of course, there is the anti-thesis of his philosophy right across Manchester at United under Jose Mourinho which should make the Manchester derby even more tactically special to watch.
Many are tipping Guardiola for failure
Many are tipping Guardiola for failure in the Premier League but this is a man whose record speaks for itself. He will transform City and it’s players into well drilled, positionally adept and tactically intelligent footballing minds and will surely inculcate his renowned work ethic.
Pep Guardiola remains one of the few managers who can translate his philosophy into the football played on the pitch. Similar to Arsene Wenger and Jose Mourinho. Yet this footballing mastermind comes to the English game with much to prove and surely will restore City to winning ways.
Although it cannot be said for certain who will win the league, expect City to be challenging for all titles this season and Guardiola could end up with at least one trophy in his cabinet come the end of the season.