How Pep Guardiola Won With Defense, Possession First This Season

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Many football experts and aficionados believe that Pep Guardiola is the best manager on Earth right now. Often described as the philosopher-king of the profession, his reputation is that of someone who combines tactical analysis, aesthetically-pleasing play and an obsession with possession, all wrapped up inside the package of an extreme workaholic. 

He has his own laboratory of sorts, where he’ll do DVD film study and ponder tactics with background music that fits into the “brain power” category or “classical music for the mind” genre.  CBS Sports/Paramount+ did a media Zoom call this week, to preview the two UEFA finals and the upcoming CONCACAF summer. During that session the topic of Pep Guardiola and his tactics came up. 

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Watch: CBS Sports Network, Paramount+, Peter Drury and Rob Green on the call

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Specifically, the panel was asked about if Pep has changed his tactics or attacking style. Micah Richards and Jamie Carragher weighed in.

“I don’t think he’s actually changed a great deal,” said Richards. “I think Ruben Dias has just been the difference. I don’t think they’ve changed too much they’re just cutting down on ridiculous mistakes, look at John Stones- Ruben Dias has helped his confidence, he’s grown as a player. ”

Guardiola is glorified for the long list of major honors won, and as the primary proponent of the tiki-taka style. It’s a designation of football that utilizes possession and quick passing to overload opponents and create space for scoring chances.

“(Some games with 67% possession, teams can’t get the ball from them,” Richards continued.

“When you look at Man City now, they’re just such a difficult team to get the ball off.”

Indeed this City team of Guardiola’s wins with defense, by holding and passing the ball, and wearing teams out.  Oh and that Ruben Dias guy- he’s been extremely dominating.

“There’s been a slight shift this season, they’re a lot less predictable than what they were,” added Carragher. “There’s been a slight difference, they’re not pressing as high as a team.”

“They have almost the perfect template for what Pep Guardiola has always wanted, a team of midfielders and he’s not far away from that with his fullbacks going into midfield.”

Carragher is totally correct, we’ve seen teams of almost all midfielders at times this season. Pep has often operated without a striker, and sometimes just using a false 9 in the final third.

jamie-carragher

“I loathe all that passing for the sake of it, all that tiki-taka,” Guardiola once famously said of the style with which he is synonymous. 

“It’s so much rubbish and has no purpose. You have to pass the ball with a clear intention, with the aim of making it into the opposition’s goal. It’s not about passing for the sake of it.” 

“Don’t believe what people say. Barça didn’t do tiki-taka! It’s completely made up! Don’t believe a word of it!”

“In all team sports, the secret is to overload one side of the pitch so that the opponent must tilt its own defence to cope. You overload on one side and draw them in so that they leave the other side weak.”

Obviously, Guardiola is not going to be too forthcoming on his tactics; one can never give away their trade secrets. When Guardiola/City do get upset, and do lose, typically it’s because Pep tried to get a little too cute with his tactics and/or formation. 

That’s the media narrative, and sometimes it’s not entirely true, but most of the time it is. There are instances where Guardiola simply tries to do too much. If Chelsea do upset them tomorrow night, you can expect to hear this narrative again. 

Earlier this week, Dias discussed City’s winning mentality this season and how they’re gaining momentum moving forward:

“We have won the Premier League title but I can’t celebrate it enough because I’m already thinking about the next title. It’s difficult sometimes because you’re just into it. I heard someone at the club say not long ago: ‘We live in the middle of the storm!’ Sometimes, we don’t even have time to celebrate or think too much about things.

“We just move on. After you play a season, game after game every three days, the mentality is just that and it’s hard to shut off. We must not shut off. We just let it go.

“It’s beautiful what is happening – especially to win the Premier League and be in the Champions League Final.”

Prediction: Manchester City 2, Chelsea 1

Chelsea ended City’s quadruple hopes, and if anyone is going to deny them a treble, it’s probably the Blues. I just don’t think they will though.

Paul M. Banks runs The Sports Bank, partnered with News NowBanks, the author of “No, I Can’t Get You Free Tickets: Lessons Learned From a Life in the Sports Media Industry,” has regularly appeared in WGNSports IllustratedChicago Tribune and SB NationFollow him on Twitter and Instagram.

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