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Pep Guardiola’s philosophy was the winner for Manchester City against Arsenal

Alexis Monteith



Pep Guardiola

Manchester City came out 3-1 winners in a hard-fought match at the Etihad last weekend. Despite the convincing score line, it was perhaps the Manchester team’s worst performance in the Premier League this season. Passes uncharacteristically went astray from the Blues as Arsenal’s pressing game constantly harried the City players.

The fact that Manchester City still managed to win the game is a testament to the philosophy of Pep Guardiola – a philosophy that many critics believed would not be able to stand up to the rigours of the Premier League.

Guardiola’s players are drilled in his concept of positional play, knowing exactly when and where to station themselves on the pitch, depending on the location of the ball in any given moment.

Conversely, in the final third, Guardiola leaves it up to the skill, intelligence and discretion of the talented players at his disposal to do what they have to do to put the ball in the back of the net.

It is this approach of well-defined and clear patterns of play, plus the discipline and fitness of the players on the pitch, that allows them to execute Guardiola’s plans successfully even on days when they are not playing particularly well.

This mix of simple, free flowing football is paradoxically based on very particular rules. By mastering these rules the players can rely on the system to get them through the game and not just their talent. It means that even under pressure the practice of the system takes over and replaces the confusion of what to do next in difficult situations.

Coaches like Arsene Wenger are more liberal towards their players, allowing them to play more freely and rely on their instincts and overall knowledge of the game.

This can work well at times when the opposition is inferior but in high pressure situations the correct, quick and automatic reactions are what players need. This is not to say that City’s players are simply automatons. However, the players know they can lean on their tactical training when there is little time for thinking and figuring things out.

Another factor that cannot be discounted is the fitness of this Manchester City team that comes with Guardiola’s style of play. The players are expected to run for the entire match to press the opposing team and recover the ball as quickly as possible. This obviously relies on players being in peak condition, at all times.

Arsenal put on a spirited display against City executing a strong pressing game. One might have expected that, coming off the back of City’s gruelling Champions League encounter with Napoli during the week, Guardiola’s team might have succumbed. However, City, just like in all their games this season, went the distance without dropping their energy levels.

Arsene Wenger’s team forced City into some erroneous passing and some of that may have been due to fatigue from the Champions League, but there was still enough energy to see the game through without looking like they were in serious danger of a defeat.

Here, again, the team’s philosophy, which demands peak fitness, was a factor behind their strength and endurance in this game.

Another important component of Pep Guardiola’s philosophy is the players themselves. The Spaniard has said time and time again that the quality of the players is what determines victory on the pitch and the success of any coach.

That quality refers to the talent and skill required to play according to the rules of his system of quick, accurate passing and possession, as well as the ability to use individual movement and positional awareness to create and score goals.

In what many considered a moment of magic from Kevin De Bruyne, the Belgian attacked the Arsenal defence at the edge of the box, playing a quick one-two with Fernandinho before firing into the net.

A characteristic dribble from Raheem Sterling drew a foul for a penalty, taken by Sergio Aguero, resulting in goal number two while Gabriel Jesus came off the bench and score the third goal of the afternoon, albeit from an offside position.

While the overall performance of the team was substandard compared to previous games this season, Guardiola was still able to see his players’ talent make the difference in three decisive plays.

De Bruyne, who has become key to unlocking defences, Sterling, whose dribbling has been a constant danger this season and Gabriel Jesus, who has been deadly right in front of goal, all came through in the key moments of a tough encounter.

While there are those who would argue that any coach can buy talent, it is important to realise that Guardiola also improves players significantly. John Stones is a better defender than he was last year, not just defensively, but also his ability to execute those pin-point passes – traits that are turning him into the typical Guardiola defender.

Aguero runs and presses more. Sane is a more dangerous player than when he arrived at the Etihad last year. Most of the players on the pitch are performing significantly better than before. Sterling is a good example and Fabian Delph, who has surprised the Premier League by slotting into an unfamiliar left-back position, is the best example.

Guardiola doesn’t just identify talented footballers. He looks for the ones whose talents fit his philosophy and then he hones that talent over time. Players from Bayern Munich have testified that Guardiola made them into better players.

Jerome Boateng is quoted in a CNN article from 2016 as saying “Since he came I think I’ve improved my game — especially technically”. He went on to say, “I think we’re all really thankful that he was here for three years and he made everybody better in the game and us as a team.”

Last year ex-Manchester City player Pablo Zabaletta said in a talkSPORT documentary, that Pep Guardiola was “always trying to improve the players and to improve the team”.

This is all part of Pep Guardiola’s football philosophy, which accounts for Manchester City’s victory over Arsenal, when, on the day, the Blues did not play particularly well.

It is a philosophy of sticking to a particular system of positional play until it becomes automatic for his players, a system that requires fitness to provide constant running and pressing and a philosophy that requires players to hone their skills to match the system’s demands.

It also accounts for their victory a few days before over the current Italian Serie A leaders, Napoli, who were outplaying them for most of the game in Naples.

After a year of the British press questioning Guardiola about his alleged failure to adapt, he is showing that his way of adapting is to keep improving and fine tuning what he and his team are doing.

I'm a Manchester City and Inter fan writing about European football but my interest also extends to the United States and Major League Soccer.

Manchester City

Manchester City close in on title after brushing aside feeble Stoke City

Manchester City have one hand on the Premier League title after victory on Monday night.

Martyn Cooke



Photo: Getty Images

So that answers that question then – Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City team can handle a dark, cold and wet mid-week fixture against Stoke City at the Bet365 Stadium.

Not that the result of this game was ever in doubt.

Manchester City are undoubtedly one of the best club sides in the world at this present moment in time and arrived in ‘The Potteries’ 13 points clear at the top of the Premier League table.

It was little surprise to see them nonchalantly brush aside Stoke on Monday evening courtesy of two goals from David Silva and, in the process, increase their lead over second-placed Manchester United to 16 points.

City now require just three more wins to confirm the title and are on course to break the 100-point mark.

Guardiola’s side were dominant at the Bet365 Stadium and continued to produce the breath-taking football that has characterised their season. It is the perfect mixture of pace, precision and technique and Stoke quite simply did not possess the quality, confidence or character to muster a challenge.

(Photo by Gareth Copley/Getty Images)

This was procession more than it was a contest and Manchester City were not required to get out of first gear.

A trip to ‘The Potteries’ used to spark fear into the hearts of opposing players – facing a Stoke team that was characterised by discipline, hard-work and an up-and-at-‘em approach that was backed by a passionate home crowd – but on Monday night all of the above were lacking. The players were lethargic on the pitch and the home supporters were apathetic in the stands.

Paul Lambert and his side appeared content to lose the game as long as the scoreline was kept respectable and it was clear from the first whistle that the Potters were in damage limitation mode.

Stoke failed to muster a shot on target in the entire game and there was no purpose, urgency or direction to their play. They offered little defensively either. There was no attempt to press the visitors or ruffle their feathers, demonstrated by the fact that only Joe Allen picked up a yellow card, and the sight of Manchester City stroking the ball around unopposed at walking pace will have been a demoralising sight for the locals.

Yes, you have to acknowledge that Manchester City are good, very good in fact, but the way that the hosts simply rolled over without a fight was indicative of a campaign that will possibly result in their relegation.

Wigan Athletic, Burnley and Basel have all demonstrated since Christmas that Guardiola’s side are far from invincible, yet the Potters opted to wave the white flag from the onset.

Lambert certainly has a task on his hands at the Bet365 Stadium if he is to guide the club to safety. A predictable loss to the champions-elect will not define their future, but the upcoming home fixture against Everton on Saturday certainly will. Stoke supporters can only hope that their team shows more character, fight and direction at the weekend than they did on Monday.

(Photo by Gareth Copley/Getty Images)

For Manchester City, the Pep Guardiola football revolution continues to roll on. The focus now for City will be to wrap up the Premier League title as soon as possible so that additional emphasis can be placed on progressing to the latter stages of the Champions League.

Beyond this season, the future continues to look bright.

Guardiola’s squad consist primarily of young starlets or players that are in their mid-late twenties and are at or just entering, the peak of their powers.

Raheem Sterling (23), Leroy Sane (22), Bernardo Silva (23), Gabriel Jesus (20), John Stones (23) and Ederson (24) are all under the age of 24 whilst  Kevin De Bruyne (26), Kyle Walker (27) and Sergio Aguero (29) have yet to hit their thirties.

The Premier League must now face up to the prospect that the current crop of Manchester City players, under the guidance of one of the best coaches of the modern era, have the potential to dominate the domestic scene for the foreseeable future.

If the runaway train is to be stopped, teams will have to demonstrate a much more positive attitude and a desire to compete than that shown in the performance by Paul Lambert and his players on Monday evening.

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Manchester City 1-0 Chelsea: Three talking points from the Etihad

Jake Jackman



Manchester City
Photo: Getty Images

Manchester City managed to beat Chelsea for the second time this season as they continue their march to the Premier League title. The contest was far from entertaining, as the visitors showed no interest in playing football and instead to soak in pressure.

Pep Guardiola’s team didn’t have to get out of second gear and it was a more comfortable victory than they would have been expecting. The Citizens are now 18 points clear at the top of the table and remain on target for 100 points, which would be a superb achievement.

Meanwhile, Chelsea sit outside of the Champions League places and are now five points behind Tottenham in fourth position. They will need a near perfect end to the season if they are to avoid missing out on qualification for next season’s competition. Here are three talking points from the Etihad Stadium…

(Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

David Silva showed his class

The 32-year-old has been at Manchester City for the majority of their journey from Premier League also-rans to elite super club and he remains a crucial player for them under Pep Guardiola.

If he had been in the team for the entire campaign, he would be running Kevin de Bruyne close for the PFA Player of the Year award. He is a classy operator who seems to get better with age.

He got the important assist for the winning goal with a superb piece of play and that is becoming par for the course for the Spanish international. Silva completed 95% of his passes and made three key passes during the contest. Meanwhile, he was very good out of possession as he made three ball recoveries.

It has been incredible to watch Pep Guardiola get all of his attacking talent on the pitch at one time, but the improvement of both Silva and De Bruyne off the ball has helped achieve that.

They are now complete midfielders and capable of thriving in both halves of the pitch. The midfielder is a club legend and supporters will be hoping that he has a few years left in him.

(Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

Antonio Conte continues to make puzzling decisions

Last season, the Italian was lauded every week as his side won the league title comfortably, but he has failed to follow it up with a good second campaign. There have been a lot of problems for Chelsea this season including recruitment, tactics and player performance.

They have been reliant on Eden Hazard and as the campaign has progressed, the team have lost their intensity, which suggests they no longer believe in Conte.


Their 3-4-2-1 formation was revolutionary, but they have moved away from it frequently this season and haven’t been able to settle on a first eleven. That was one of Chelsea’s strengths last season. Gary Cahill and David Luiz have been sidelined, while Alvaro Morata has failed to replace Diego Costa sufficiently.

On Sunday, Conte chose to field Hazard as a lone frontman, but he struggled to impact the game in that role. He is best when having space in front of him to run into and he didn’t have that against Manchester City.

The Belgian international was isolated and touched the ball only 31 times. It was a tactical error and one that blunted Chelsea’s attack before a ball was kicked.

(Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)

Ilkay Gundogan is flourishing in the middle of the park for Manchester City

The former Borussia Dortmund midfielder has had his problems since arriving in the Premier League.

He has suffered a few injuries and that has seen him struggle to secure a regular starting berth, but he has featured prominently in recent weeks and is perfect for the system. Gundogen recycles possession effectively and that is required, especially when the opposition team sits deep.


Gundogen touched the ball more than any other player on the pitch with 181 touches and was very good at distributing the ball quickly. He finished the match with a 96% pass success rate, which shows his role.

He wasn’t taking any risks and he didn’t have to. City have a lot of attacking talent and the German international isn’t required to try risky passes to influence the game.

Although Chelsea didn’t get on the ball much, Gundogen broke up the play when required with four ball recoveries. Fernandinho’s absence could allow the 27-year-old to secure the place on a permanent basis and he does offer more in the role, especially in possession. It was a strong performance and one of the standouts in a dull affair.

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Arsenal 0-3 Manchester City: Three talking points from the Emirates

Jake Jackman brings us three talking points from the Emirates Stadium as a Leroy Sane masterclass saw Manchester City overcome Arsenal for the second time this week.

Jake Jackman



Manchester City
Photo: Getty Images

Manchester City ran out comfortable 3-0 winners against Arsenal for the second time in less than a week, further underlining the problems at the Emirates Stadium.

These performances are becoming too common for the Gunners that they can no longer be seen as embarrassing. They are expected in matches against the top six. Pep Guardiola’s team were far superior in every department and excellent value for the three points.

There are now 30 points separating Arsenal from Manchester City in the league table. To put that into context, the Gunners are close to the relegation zone than they are the title. For a team that has ambitions to challenge for major honours, that is a worrying statistic.

Here are three talking points from the Emirates Stadium…

LONDON, ENGLAND – MARCH 01: Arsene Wenger of Arsenal looks on during the Premier League match between Arsenal and Manchester City at Emirates Stadium on March 1, 2018 in London, England. (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)

Arsene Wenger needs to leave

This has been a raging debate within the Arsenal fan-base for a number of seasons. He had more supporters than haters when he was regularly leading the Gunners to top-four finishes, but they are now ten points below the Champions League places. It is difficult to see them qualifying for the competition and their failure is no longer a surprise.

Arsenal have been regressing as a club since their last league title win in 2004 and they are now the 6th best club in the country. They are regularly outperformed by local rivals Tottenham and until Arsene Wenger leaves, their decline will only continue. He has been left behind by the game and he no longer commands respect in the dressing room.

It is easy to target the lack of fight and desire in the squad, but they are a problem. Players were once again going through the motions after the third Manchester City goal and showed no interest in trying to get back into the game.

If there isn’t a managerial change this summer, it will be another huge mistake by the board.

LONDON, ENGLAND – MARCH 01: Leroy Sane of Manchester City is challenged by Hector Bellerin during the Premier League match between Arsenal and Manchester City at Emirates Stadium on March 1, 2018 in London, England. (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images) 

Leroy Sane deserves to be talked about as one of the best in the league

The young German winger has been taken on as a project by Pep Guardiola at Manchester City. The Spanish manager was quick to bring Sane to the club and clearly sees huge potential in him. He was initially used in a squad role but has since emerged as a key first team player and this could have been his coming of age performance.

The 22-year-old was unplayable at times when running with the ball and his dynamism is a joy to watch. He completed six dribbles during the match.

For the first goal, he beat a couple of Arsenal defenders before playing the ball to Bernardo Silva to finish the move. It wasn’t a straightforward finish, but the goal was down to the individual flair of Sane.

After impressing with his dribbling ability, Sane scored a well-earned goal to put the result beyond doubt. It won’t be remembered as a classic, but it was good movement to get into the goal-scoring position.

Guardiola will be pleased with the winger’s distribution considering he only misplaced two of 35 total passes. If he can consistently perform to this level, he will be talked about as one of the best players in the Premier League.

LONDON, ENGLAND – MARCH 01: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang of Arsenal reacts after having penalty saved by Ederson of Manchester City during the Premier League match between Arsenal and Manchester City at Emirates Stadium on March 1, 2018 in London, England. (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang hasn’t added anything to this Arsenal team

It is early days and it may be too soon to be overly critical of Aubameyang, but he has been totally anonymous in the majority of his matches in a Gunners’ shirt.

The 28-year-old is renowned for having a lot of pace and that was his most feared attribute during his time at Borussia Dortmund. However, at Arsenal, he looks uninterested and isn’t making the runs in behind that made him dangerous in the Bundesliga.

His pass success rate shows how he is struggling to adapt to the Premier League. Aubameyang completed only 55% of his passes. In addition to this, he has failed to win a single aerial duel and isn’t concerned about working hard for the team defensively. He is a passenger in matches and hasn’t offered an upgrade on Alexandre Lacazette.

Aubameyang’s short career at the Emirates Stadium was symbolised best by his penalty miss. It was encouraging that he had the confidence to take the responsibility, but his kick was tame and he made it easy for Ederson. Given his price-tag and reputation, he needs to be offering a lot more to the Arsenal attack.

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