In Defence of Pep Guardiola’s Man City

The Internet can be a funny place sometimes, with an example of this being after Manchester City’s defeat in Barcelona; it was only about 3 weeks ago that football fans all over the world were wondering if anyone could challenge them for the league title this year. Now, after a couple of poor results they are a laughing stock. While a 4-0 loss in Barcelona is hardly anything to be embarrassed about, it seems as if the manager has a lot more to answer for after making a couple of key decisions that backfired horribly. The big one was, of cours,e not playing Sergio Aguero. The most dangerous striker in the Premier League would’ve been handy at the Camp Nou, Wednesday night, but it seems as if Pep didn’t think so.

According to Pep, it was a tactical decision to get an extra midfielder on the pitch — rubbish; Nolito started the game in a wide position, with Kevin De Bruyne starting as a centre forward. Guardiola has a slight weakness as a manager and that is that he loves himself too much. He has a massive ego, and although largely justified, it can also be a problem. Sometimes he over thinks his tactics to the point where he hinders his own team. There is nothing wrong with picking your best players and putting them in their best positions; DeBruyne, Silva, Aguero and Sterling in particular have started the season so well, so why change the way they are playing? Seems a little counter productive to me.

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Claudio Bravo will inevitably get a lot of stick for his actions too, including a sloppy pass that went straight to Luis Suarez — not exactly the fella you’d want to give the ball away to, on any part of the pitch, especially not 30 yards from goal with no keeper in. His mistake was in two parts really — not alone the pass itself, but also his decision to handle the ball; John Stones is making it back to clear the ball in my opinion. Suarez didn’t quite catch his strike right, so Bravo’s decision was made in pure panic, trying to redeem his initial error. I’m sure that Guardiola has instructed his keeper to play out from the back as much as he can, but Bravo needs to understand that it’s not possible to do it all the time.

Would Guardiola accept a lump of a clearance down the pitch in that situation? A thousand times, yes. Having your keeper play this way will inevitably cause problems, though, and will give away chances to the opposition, and I’m sure Pep will openly admit that. There is a lot to be said for a keeper who makes saves and doesn’t get involved in general play, unless its absolutely necessary (Edwin Van Der Sar would famously insist on only getting back passes inside his own six-yard box). Joe Hart has got better and better in the opinions of most football journalists since he left, but as we saw at the Euros in the summer, he has been out of form for a little while, and maybe not the answer either.

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Defensively, City have looked vulnerable throughout the start of this campaign — a centre-back pairing of John Stones and Nicolas Otamendi doesn’t immediately strike fear into the hearts of attacking players around the world. While I think John Stones has the potential to be a world class defender, he’s not there yet. At 22 years of age he is still very naive. I have a theory about defenders who leave a club at a young age for big money that they never learn how to defend properly. Stones has been signed for almost £50 million. £50 million! You can’t sign for that much money and not be the finished article — Rio Ferdinand was a similar player; he signed for Leeds United for £18 million from West Ham United at just 22 years old.

These players are still learning the art of defending, and it as an art. If Raheem Sterling doesn’t have a good game, then it’s understandable, right? He’s young, and as an attacking player, his mistakes aren’t crucial. If John Stones makes a mistake, then it could lead to a goal. He needs to be coached. He needs to learn how to lead and organise around him. Stones was almost certainly signed for his ability to play out from the back, but that will be no good if his team are conceding goals.

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Luckily for Manchester City fans, it’s still early days in Guardiola’s tenure.  While many, myself included, will be frustrated by his over-tactical approach at times, it’s also a little bit impressive that he has imposed his game on this team so quickly. His ability to get players believing in their ability is one of the traits that makes him one of the most exciting managers around. Alex Ferguson had a similar belief in his players, no matter who they played against. He doesn’t believe in trying to stop the opposition playing, unlike some other managers in Manchester. He creates a world where players are encouraged to try things.

They are encouraged to try to pass the ball and be positive in all situations, even if you’re the Goalkeeper. That kind of belief will pay dividends in the long run, while causing some problems in early development. So often in games when at Barcelona, his team were rewarded for playing the game the same way, right until the bitter end. Andres Iniesta scored a last minute equaliser at Stamford Bridge in 2009 to get to the Champions League Final when Chelsea really should’ve won the game, but Barcelona kept trying to pass the ball even when time was running out. They never resorted to a long, hopeful punt into the penalty area; it was always passing and moving — the way they always play. They got their reward that night and, given time, this Manchester City side will get their rewards too.