Pep Guardiola’s Tactics Analysed

Pep Guardiola's Tactics Explained

Manchester City are unstoppable this season and our football expert analyses how Pep Guardiola sets up tactically.

The late Johan Cruyff once said “quality without results is pointless. Results without quality is boring”. The Dutch great would go on to give Guardiola his professional debut in his exciting Barcelona “Dream Team” of the early 90’s and turn him into a world-class footballer. It never ended there, the pupil went on to become a great manager and he’s on the cusp of winning the Premier League this season, with his side playing an exciting brand of football. How is he managing to do that in such a physical league?


Guardiola prefers versatile players who can fit into a fluid system because there’s a great interchange of positions. Every single player, including the goalkeeper, must be able to play with the ball at his feet because he hates it when someone boots the ball upfield aimlessly. In other words, his teams play out from the back when they restart play from a goal kick situation or a throw-in from a deep position.

The two fullbacks must be able to operate in midfield as he instructs them to drift infield to create numerical superiority in the central areas. He did that with Philip Lahm at Bayern Munich who ended up playing as a makeshift midfielder for Germany and the versatile David Alaba. At Man City he has Kyle Walker on the right and Fabian Delph, who used to be a central midfielder on the left.

When the so-called inverted fullbacks drift infield, things are likely to happen. Firstly, it creates numerical superiority in the central areas which gives his team a great chance to penetrate. Secondly, the opponents may try to counter that by instructing their wingers to track the fullbacks and counter the numerical advantage in the middle of the park but that leaves his dangerous wingers like Leroy Sane and Raheem Starling in one on one situations with the opposition fullbacks. That’s the concept of overcrowding to isolate.

In the central zones, the team has technical players such as Kevin De Bruyne who mainly operates as a deep-lying-playmaker, David Silva who is a great passer of the ball and Fernandinho who normally drops deep to make sure that the two centre backs are not left exposed. These players are very good when it comes to circulating the ball and keeping it away from the opponents. Behind them are two of the following three defenders who can also receive the ball and knock it about coolly as opposed to just booting it upfield, they come in the shape of John Stones, Nicholas Otamendi and Vincent Kompany.

Ederson is always a back-pass option due to his passing ability. His game-reading skills also come in handy when he has to swiftly come off his line to avert danger. That makes him the ideal sweeper keeper for Guardiola’s high-pressing style which leaves a lot of space between his goal and the defensive line.

The other key thing when applying a high press is having players who can operate in small spaces with incisiveness since slow circulation of the ball can be counterproductive. We saw that during Louis Van Gaal’s time at Manchester United. When City lose possession, they are likely to be having a lot of their players in the opposition half, so they have to press immediately to force errors out of opposition defences and prevent counter attacks. When you’re gegenpressing/counter-pressing like that, your defenders are not likely to face counter-attacks since opposition defensive-minded players don’t have enough time on the ball to make pinpoint passes to their attackers.

We must also remember that City spent a lot of money in the transfer market too but players who can win one on one battles if the opponents try to replicate their shape or counter their dominance in all areas of the pitch.

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