Tactical analysis : Decoding Pep Guardiola’s tactics in Manchester City

Press, pass, press


Pressing. Building from the back. Passing. Possession. Disorganizing opponents. Lightning Fast Counter Attacks – these are the 6 basic principles on which Pep Guardiola’s teams are built.

Whether it was Barcelona’s Dream Team in the 1990’s, or the Barcelona of the late 2000’s or Bayern Munich – all teams shared a common philosophy. Players were highly technical and skilled with the ball. They were good passers and the main focus was on disorganizing the opponent rather than scoring goals. Goals were a by product of ball domination and passing. The main aspect of Pep Guardiola’s coaching style however, is the passing and possession.

Barcelona were famous for building from the back, with the likes of Gerard Pique, Sergio Busquets and even Victor Valdes at times passing the ball around and making play happen. Pique and Busquets were especially important in this context as their play helped to disorganize the opposition. They held onto the ball till their more illustrious forwards made their move, which was then caught out by the likes of Xavi, Iniesta and later by Xabi Alonso and Philip Lahm at Bayern Munich. They could frustrate and tire their opponents out by their passing and by keeping possession for long periods of time, eventually disable their strategy. The opposition ended up going after the ball leaving gaps in the middle and at the back which were then exploited clinically.

All teams that Pep Guardiola has been involved with, especially the ones he has coached, have focused on pressing very high up he pitch and winning the ball back as soon as possible. He instructs his players to keep a high line and put their opponents under pressure from the get go. This way, the less skilled defenders are more likely to cough up the ball and that can lead to tun overs in the opposition’s half which can lead to easy goals.

Apart from the high pressing and pressure, Guardiola also ensures that whenever his team has the ball, they look to counter attack if and when the opportunity arises. It is the easiest and the best way to peg the opposition back, especially when you have fast players up front who can turn offense into defense at the blink of an eye.

The deep lying playmaker is a difficult position to master, one which Guardiola himself was a great practitioner of. He along with Xavi and Alonso have made this position their own. Whenever such players have the ball, it is impossible for the opposition to rest. Not only can they keep possession for long periods of time, they can also find that killer pass and thread the ball through the eye of the needle whenever possible. With the wingers always ready to get behind the defense, it left the defending side on their toes and eventually over the course of 90 minutes they wold get worn down and make mistakes.

The full backs frequently over lapped and the striker would drop deep to create spaces down the middle and enable the wingers to make diagonal runs. The opposition defense is left in a tizzy whether to man mark the forwards, or to stop the over lapping full backs or to hold their position and prevent the wingers from cutting inside.

All these factors combined with the special talent of players Pep Guardiola has always had, has ensured success wherever he’s went. Add to that the special talents of Lionel Messi and Arjen Robben, who can create goals out of nothing, and you have an unstoppable force which can not be beaten.

This was a brief introduction to Guardiola and his tactics. Follow this space for more.

Photo by Thomas Rodenbücher