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Man City wins fourth Premier League Title in five seasons

Pep Guardiola’s arrival at Manchester City in 2016 was greeted by many with skepticism that the methods that made him so successful in Spain and Germany might not work in England.

A fourth Premier League title in five seasons, confirmed by a superb win over Aston Villa on Sunday, made a mockery of those early doubts. There is widespread acceptance now that his approach has dramatically changed football in the country.

A visit to a non-league match, youth match or even a five-on-one pitch in England was once a guarantee of seeing a brand of football focused primarily on winning, with style not the important factor.

But that has changed and Guardiola is arguably the main reason for that. Because of him, we live in different tactical times. Traits like building up from behind, the drive to be bold while going forward, and ‘obsessed obsession’ are constantly there for all to see. Not only among the elite but through the football pyramid, down to the youngest players.

It is no exaggeration to say that Guardiola has changed football.

But perhaps less discussed is how English football has changed Guardiola.

The methods honed at Barcelona and Bayern Munich have evolved and will continue after the signing of Erling Haaland. The deal itself says a lot about how the Manchester City manager has adapted his vision of football over the last six years.

For City, the Norwegian’s arrival is a sign that Guardiola is ready for the next chapter in what is quickly becoming a dynasty. The long-term manager’s future is far from certain but he has enjoyed life in Manchester and, despite arriving as the leading coach of his generation, he has had to adapt to his new surroundings and English football has seen him change things. his own view.

He arrives confident in his belief that you can control the game and set the rhythm for your team with a central midfielder who is neither too strong nor too physical. This is what he has done in the past with Xavi at Barcelona and Joshua Kimmich at Bayern.

But he quickly discovered that approach was not working in the Premier League. In England you need a central midfielder who is strong in aerial combat and wins 50-50. Rodri is a good example of what he thinks he needs. Also, he expects his central midfielders to act as defenders when the centre-backs move forward, so they need to have the physicality to tackle that position.

His views on refereeing are also well known – he believes British referees are much more lenient than their continental counterparts. It also affects his decision-making, because he feels you need a physically bigger and stronger player to deal with him. If you fall, you better get up and be ready to start again because clashes don’t get fouled as often as they do elsewhere.

A full-back has been added to assist the midfield, something he has started to use in Germany. English football has shown him that sometimes you need an extra midfielder and full-back who can help you control the center area with the ball, and also help with a second ball in the middle when you have to regain possession.

And then there was something Guardiola was worried about, but gradually realized he had to accept – that English football, full of high-octane emotion emanating from the stands, is often played amid a lack of control, unlike the two heavyweights. boxers hit each other in the knowledge that someone will fall, and more often than not the one with the most quality will win.

In the last game against Newcastle, Guardiola decided to let Joao Cancelo attack and stay high, forcing his opponent Allan Saint-Maximin to drop deeper. This means that the Magpies winger also has the opportunity to attack the empty space left by Cancelo. Blow after blow, in the hopes the City men will win the fight. He did. The champions won 5-0, with Cancelo claiming one assist. This is a tactic that comes from years of experience in the Premier League.

As a perfectionist, Guardiola is focused on fixing the shortcomings of Manchester City’s game this season.

One of the key areas in which he has worked his hardest over the past year, and with the greatest success, has been on set pieces at both ends of the pitch.

In 2021-22, Manchester City conceded just one goal from such a scenario in the Premier League – a corner against Aston Villa in December – and scored 21 goals at the other end of a set piece situation.

But despite the statistics, there is still a perception that there is a vulnerability in this team. If that’s not too much on set-pieces, then what about the counter-attack? Their 2-2 draw at West Ham in their penultimate game of the season is a good example of this. Time and time again, Michail Antonio and Jarrod Bowen broke through and threatened, with mixed results.

For Guardiola, it’s a risk worth taking and coming with territory if you have so many players in front of the ball. He manages the team to stop these counter-attacks and he has learned to do well – City have the most ruthless defense in the Premier League.

In fact, a lot of blame for the lack of complete control of the game can be laid at the door of English football. A score of 2-0 in Spain or Germany is considered game over. Not in England.

This is something he has to understand by his players – but only after he has mastered it on his own.

Keeping the ball well isn’t a guarantee that weird things won’t happen.

There have been some odd games, not least the 6-3 win over Leicester where his side were 4-0 up after just 25 minutes and then conceded three goals within 10 minutes of the second half. In the end, a goal from Aymeric Laporte calmed everyone down before Raheem Sterling added a sixth.

One thing Guardiola has appreciated over the last six years is that the pressure placed on teams by fans in England is unlike anywhere else in the world and how you deal with it ultimately defines you.

In times like these, there may be nothing that can be done to stop dynamic changes. Real Madrid’s clash in the Champions League semi-finals is an example – if one of the six chances City had at the Etihad Stadium, or one of Grealish’s two chances at the Bernabeu, had been converted, the story would have been different. Guardiola accepts that sometimes control and possession is not enough. Tactical acumen takes a temporary backseat to raw courage as emotions take over and it becomes a case of ‘all hands to the pump’ as opposed to heaps forward.

This was one area where he knew things could be improved. Ruben Dias displays calm and clarity in his decision-making in times of stress and panic. He is an example to follow.

What about Kevin de Bruyne? He is an absolutely brilliant player who knows what he has to do and does it with impeccable skill, but to reach the level of Karim Benzema, Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo, he has to be more present at the sharpest and most brutal moments.

Until recently, Guardiola had tended to favor intelligence, adaptability and technique over big personalities when building a team.

But any successful side needs an outside leader who is on the bench. For me, Haaland’s £51.2m signing from Borussia Dortmund is recognition not only that they need his touch on the net, but also that they need him to make the difference in a moment where the rivalry is mostly even – in the semi-finals. , finals and major domestic games against Liverpool.

And in signing the Norwegian, City have signed a true superstar, with a strength of personality befitting his talent.

However, there is no guarantee that City can go from winning most games to winning all of them. Who can? Guardiola has dominated domestic titles and his side are now regulars in the final stages of the Champions League (which is a requirement of the club owners) without a regular goalscorer or decisive player in key moments like Harry Kane or Mohamed Salah.

Guardiola and director of football Txiki Begiristain have long known that City need a top striker and a top personality. For two windows, they tried to sign Kane, to no avail.

The hope is that Haaland will become such a player and it is likely that City will change the way they play to accommodate him.

Guardiola has long placed a lot of emphasis on his team working across wide areas of the pitch, trying to build on a numerical advantage before finishing it with an arrival in the midfield box. Crosses are often overlooked because they have no players to head the ball.

Overall, it has worked brilliantly, but for some time City have been less efficient in the penalty area – no team has squandered more chances than they have in the last four years. Haaland has been bought to change that.

His arrival will likely reduce the emphasis on movement out wide, with build-up play coming more from midfield, and with a greater focus on players getting into the box.

And we may see more transition games.

At Barcelona, ​​Guardianola once said that a team had to pass the ball 15 times before starting an attack, that way making sure all the players were in their proper position. That is the basis of his positional play. But in England, he has learned how quickly a transition can be decisive.

That is something he also explored during his time in Germany, but he has taken it to a new dimension in the Premier League. De Bruyne has been key to that, a player whose sharp passing helps destroy defending teams in a deep and compact manner, a tactic that City’s rivals use most often.

Guardiola is a passionate proponent of an approach that destabilizes opponents by constantly moving the ball before finding a killer pass. But he has accepted that there are a growing number of instances where playing a much faster game is the best option, because that’s when opponents are least organized.

This is not a change in approach, only an adaptation is required.

Haaland will thrive on a quick transition but will also relish chances to get into the six-yard box for a team that creates more chances than anyone else in Europe. He had been told he would, more often than not, ‘get off his jail-free card’ City.

The elephant in the room when discussing City’s future under Guardiola is that his contract expires in 2023.

Gossip has it that Haaland was told his arrival would make it easier for the 51-year-old to decide his future, although it certainly wouldn’t come from the manager himself and the club deny that it was discussed in negotiations.

Now might not be the time to talk about that, not least because Guardiola is still affected by the disappointing loss to Real Madrid.

One thing is for sure is when the Spaniard makes a decision it will not happen until he has had a long rest, clears his mind and convinces himself whether he has the energy to continue at City or not.

It wasn’t his lack of Champions League wins that decided matters for him. He couldn’t believe he had done anything less than good at Manchester City.

He knows that winning the Champions League will be the cherry on the cake and is also aware that getting the best out of the same – or similar – group of players gets harder every year. Perhaps getting a ‘precious title’ (in Lionel Messi’s words) will be carried out by the next manager using the foundations he has built.

But for now, he didn’t talk about that. Right now, there is no room or strength to look ahead just yet. Just to celebrate and rest.