Pep Guardiola joined Manchester City last summer with one of the best managerial records in History. He’d won the league in all but one of his seasons in charge of Barcelona B, Barcelona and Bayern Munich (coming second in La Liga 2011-12 to Jose Mourinho’s Real Madrid) and fans and pundits alike backed him to lead City to their first title since 2014.
Instead, Guardiola’s introduction to the Premier League was harsh. After dropping England number one Joe Hart and signing Claudio Bravo, City finished third. Home draws and a poor record against the top seven leaving them eight points behind Tottenham in second and 15 points behind Champions Chelsea.
They started well enough, winning their first six league fixtures. But a 2-0 loss away at Tottenham began a run of one win in five, after which they never recovered enough to mount a serious title challenge.
They also failed to win any silverware, meaning it was Guardiola’s first season without a trophy as a manager. Many fans used this to highlight the increased difficulty of managing in the Premier League compared to La Liga and the Bundesliga, while others called for calm and patience, and to allow Pep more time to impose his style on the team.
What went wrong last season?
Pep’s style is easy to spot, hard to analyse, and even harder to play against. His teams rarely stray from a 4-3-3 formation, with the midfield three given instructions to remain very narrow, usually with at least one screening the defence all game. The attacking three also have strict instructions on what space they are to occupy. The wide attackers are not expected to be the main source of width though, with the full backs frequently overlapping and providing crosses and runs, stretching opposition full backs.
This style does not work without players that can do their jobs to Pep’s standard. When he has a full team of his players, set up in his system, historically there have only been two weaknesses; fast counter attacks and set pieces.
Interestingly, though the squad Guardiola inherited was largely accustomed to the Premier League (known for its direct and physical nature) the weaknesses his teams have always had returned once again. Despite not being completely Guardiola’s team just yet, they still suffered in the ways his teams always have. A counter attacking masterclass from Leicester dismantled City in December and set pieces proved their Kryptonite as they failed to beat Middlesbrough home or away.
What City didn’t have a problem with was the depth of their squad. Unfortunately for them their depth wasn’t good enough. When Aguero and co were struggling, the options were not good enough. Fernandinho and Fernando were good options in the midfield, Fabian Delph was not a good enough replacement.Embed from Getty Images
So what else went wrong last season? Despite a few disappointing results against lower ranked teams, what cost City the title was their terrible record against the top seven. Of the 36 points available, City won 11. With only two wins coming against Manchester United and Arsenal.
It is obvious to say that you need to win games to win the title, but it is imperative you take points off your title rivals. City didn’t do that often enough.
The Pep Revolution
To improve, Pep first and foremost was looking to complete a team set up to play his way. He wasted no time in releasing three ageing full backs; Pablo Zabaleta, Bacary Sagna and Gael Clichy. He has brought in Kyle Walker, a rampaging and pacey Right Back with attacking prowess, for £45 million from rivals Tottenham. It is difficult to believe the transfer window will close before another right back and a left back are signed.
Elsewhere, Willy Caballero was also released and City quickly signed Brazilian Ederson for £35 million. It will be very interesting to see who wins the battle to be City’s number 1, with Bravo needing to impress in a World Cup year.
Other fringe players have also left this summer, but rather than replace them with other “option” players, Guardiola is buying quality. Bernardo Silva has been brought in to add trickery out wide for £43 million. Having been lucky enough to watch Silva play last season, I can say with confidence that he will prove a success.
City recently signed Brazilian 19-year-old Douglas Luiz and will loan him out to Spanish club Girona. They continue to be linked with Alexis Sanchez, while Kelechi Iheanacho and Nolito are rumoured to be close to exiting the Etihad to Leicester and Sevilla respectively. Joe Hart also will exit before September.
Having spent over £130 million already this summer, City’s squad is looking good ahead of the new season. The big games still need to be negotiated and the bookies have them down as favourites to win the Premier League next season. Fans will expect no less, though Pep Guardiola will have his sights set even higher.
Written by Sam Hanys.