Pep Guardiola: Master at work

What is brilliant about Pep Guardiola is the fact that he adapts Manchester City’s shape and tactics without compromising on his philosophy.

Pep Guardiola adapts City’s shape and tactics without compromising on his philosophy.   -  Getty Images

It looks like going away. The one thing Arsenal and its fans hold dear to them is slowly and clinically being grabbed by a bunch of men in sky blue on the instructions of a bald magician. He can deny it as much as he wants to, but Pep Guardiola and his Manchester City side look good to steamroll their way to the Premier League title, unbeaten. Actually, they look like steamrolling their way to every Cup they are playing for and it’s awe inducing!

Such has been City’s dominance this season that the EPL title has already been written off by rival clubs with 12 game weeks still left to play for. Everyone is only scrambling for a Champions League spot.

But while he’s always heaping praise on his players, it’s only a very poor attempt to mask his genius. Last season — Pep’s first in the EPL — City ended in third with a massive 15-point gap separating winners Chelsea and them. Everyone was swift to mock the man and talk about how easy he had things in Barcelona and Bayern Munich. Pep, on the other hand, got down to working on fixing things. Here, you have to give credit to the owners and board of City for persisting with the Spaniard. Modern-day football managers are victims of the dagger rather often and easily. But Pep is the kind of manager who needs time and more importantly the backing of every single person of the board, staff and dressing room if his philosophy has to see the light of day.

“In my situation at a big club, I’m sacked. I’m out,” he said. “If it is Barcelona and Bayern, you don’t win and you are out. Here I have a second chance and I will try to do it better next season.” It may sound like a regular claim but not for Pep. He is the kind of manager who will obsess at a completely different level and you can see it from the way he goes about things at the touchline, even if his side is leading 5-0, with 80 minutes on the clock.

Pep adapts City’s shape and tactics without compromising on his philosophy. He wants to boss and own every inch of space on the pitch which leads to possession. The margins in modern-day football are very fine and it takes innovating tactics to shrug competition away. And there aren’t many like Pep who do this brilliantly.

Talking about Manchester City and innovative tactics, I remember Stuart Pearce’s attempt to pull off something rather crazy during City’s game versus Middlesbrough for a UEFA Cup place in 2004-05. With the game veering towards a draw, Pearce replaced midfielder Caludio Reyna with goalkeeper Nicky Weaver and then pushed ’keeper David James to play up front! Robbie Fowler had an injury-time penalty saved and Middlesbrough went through. But that night will always be remembered for City having two ’keepers on the pitch.

Guardiola is eccentric but not crazy enough to attempt something like Pearce. His using of Fabian Delph as left-back in the absence of an injured Benjamin Mendy has got everyone standing up and applauding. But Pep admits that plans need time to materialise. He had a very honest assessment of the Delph move — “Last season, I never thought of playing Fabian Delph at full-back,” he explained. “Now it’s: ‘Ah, the brilliant Pep, how talented he is.’ Why I didn’t do that last season? I ask that myself as well. Sometimes you need more time to see things and then you realise that Mendy is injured, we have a player who is a midfield player, but he is smart, he is a real leader, Fabian Delph. That is why I always give credit to the players for what they do.”

I’ve also come across a piece that said Pep constantly takes and works upon feedback from his technical staff and that is such an important attribute for a manager. You have to trust your staff .

Whether this could end up as the greatest ever side in the Premier League is a debate that will rage on. Are they better than Sir Alex Ferguson’s United, Wenger’s invincibles or Mourinho’s Chelsea? Till then, enjoy the magic show that the bald wizard is putting on, it’s special!