Manchester City have started life under Pep Guardiola in emphatic fashion, winning three out of three and putting in some excellent displays against Steaua Bucharest and Stoke. So what has the Spaniard changed?
Style of play
Something which has been changed from the top of the pitch to the bottom is the style of play. The goalkeeper has been changed from Joe Hart to Willy Caballero, which is something that has divided opinion but has been done due to the ball playing skills Pep Guardiola demands of a goalkeeper. With City confirming the signing of Claudio Bravo, it is certain that he will be the new number one.
In the back line, Guardiola has opted for a back four mostly of Aleksander Kolarov, John Stones, Nicolás Otamendi and Pablo Zabaleta, which with the exception of John Stones was the most used back four used by Manuel Pellegrini last season. However, the way they play is completely different. When City have possession of the ball, the two centre backs separate wide with Fernandinho dropping in to make it a back three and the two full backs become inverted by going into the centre of midfield to outnumber the opposition. This is something that has never been seen before in the Premier League.
This system allows more options for passes and ball retention, with both centre backs having more options of passing the ball to the deepest midfielder, the other centre back or one of the inverted full backs. They also have the option to play a long pass to an attacking midfielder or play it out wide to one of the wingers. This always allows for a passing option or lane, which is instrumental in Guardiola’s philosophy. The signing of John Stones has complemented the system well as he has excelled with the ball at his feet.
John Stones has been one of City’s standout players so far this season.
For a team to be successful the players must have the right mentality, a change in City’s mentality can be most clearly seen in Raheem Sterling. The young England international was poor last season but so far this season he has burst into life and looked a completely different player. Sterling hesitated to beat a man last season but this season has no fear using his pace and then getting a shot away, with arguably only his final ball still lacking at times. This just shows that when a player has the confidence that the manager is behind them they can excel.
A really obvious change has taken place to all of the players though. With the score at 2-1 against Stoke, the team didn’t just settle for seeing out the game, instead, they kept up the intensity and went looking for more goals. Under Pellegrini last year, it is incredibly likely that the mentality instilled into the players would be to hold the lead they have, sit back and invite pressure. Instead, this new mentality helped City turn a one-goal lead into a three-goal lead, which increased their goal difference and allowed them to go top of the league.
Nolito scored the last two goals in the game against Stoke.
No Kompany, no problem (so far)
Last season, the reason Man City’s title challenge emphatically collapsed was down to the injuries suffered by their influential skipper. Vincent Kompany has been at the heart of City’s two Premier League title wins and its no surprise that in the two seasons where he has suffered persistent injuries, City’s form has taken a massive dip. For example, last season when City played Stoke, Kompany was out injured and Stoke played City off the park winning 2-0.
The addition of John Stones has eased the pressure on City’s defence as they now look more adept to cope in the absence of Kompany. Also, with the ever so influential Guardiola on the touchline, City are no longer short of any leadership or inspiration in Kompany’s absence either. Despite this, Kompany is still their all-around best defender and whenever he doesn’t play he will be missed in one way or another, especially against high-quality opposition. However, there is a sense this year with City that there is not as much of an over reliance on Kompany to be fit, this seems to come from Guardiola. On the touchline he is constantly bringing players over to give them instructions, motivating and organising them as a team, something they didn’t have under Pellegrini.
Guardiola is one of the most energetic managers on the touchline, a stark contrast to previous manager Pellegrini.
Although City have made a flying start to their Premier League and Champions League campaign, it will take a while for Guardiola’s style to be perfected by the City players. Never the less, things look promising on the blue side of Manchester!
This article was written by Ben Tipper – Twitter @bentippermcfc