Even with 11 games remaining, it’s safe to assume that Manchester City have won the Premier League title. They currently sit 16 points clear on top of the table with a whopping 72 points and a goal difference of +59.
While they may not break Chelsea’s record of the most points in a Premier League season with 95, they broke the record for the most consecutive wins in a season with 18 and could still break the record for most goals in a season, best goal difference and largest title-winning margin.
Even though they won’t live up to the feats of Arsenal’s “Invincibles” from the 2003-2004 campaign, this Man City side is widely regarded as one of the best Premier League teams ever. City’s tremendous talent, combined with the tactical genius of Pep Guardiola, has formed the Citizens into an elite European powerhouse, encompassing the true beauty of football every time they step onto the pitch.
It didn’t take long for Man City to find their outstanding form this season. After a somewhat slow start to the season – beating newly-promoted Brighton, 2-0; losing, 1-0, to Spanish side Girona in a friendly; drawing with Everton, 1-1; and pulling out a last gasp winner against Bournemouth to win, 2-1 – the Citizens went on to win their next seven games in September by a combined score of 25-1.
They dismantled Stoke, 7-2, in their next game on October 14, then went on an 11-game winning streak in all competitions before losing, 2-1, in an away match to Ukrainian side Shakhtar Donetsk in the Champions League on December 6.
Man City are in the race to win the Premier League title, the League Cup (Carabao Cup) and the Champions League. Impressive by any standard.
So what’s been the recipe for City’s remarkable success?
Many Premier League advocates wondered if Pep’s tactics would work as well in England as they did in Spain and Germany. After all, the Premier League is filled with the most overall talent of any league in the world. Surely, there would be a learning curve.
And there was, albeit a small one. In Pep’s first season in England, Man City finished third in the Premier League, reached the semi-finals of the FA Cup, the fourth round of the League Cup, and the round of 16 in the Champions League. Perhaps not the ideal finishes for Pep and Co., but it was a foundation-building season as Pep began implementing his style and his players began to grasp his concepts, appreciate his expectations, and understand their roles.
Pep’s philosophy is most often attributed to the Ajax system from the Netherlands. This system’s main tactic revolves around forming triangles when in possession of the ball so that the player with the ball at his feet will always have two options.
One can watch any team Pep has coached and quickly recognize the triangles when they’re in possession of the ball. This allows his teams to play the ball out of the back more easily rather than simply clearing the ball and giving away possession.
This system almost always favors a 4-3-3 with the wing-backs and wingers opening up the pitch by pushing all the way to the touchline. The three central midfielders are critical in Pep’s system because they are responsible for maintaining the flow of play from the back to the forwards with creativity in order to score goals.
Defensively, the system focuses on pressing the ball while the opposition have possession in their own third of the pitch. This places immense pressure on the goalkeeper and defenders, with the objective of forcing them to turn the ball over in front of their goal or clearing it arbitrarily. This tactic was coined as the “Six Second Rule” while Pep was at Barcelona because when they would lose the ball they were charged with working to win it back within six seconds. This intense pressure puts loads of stress on the opposing team and denies them a chance to get into a rhythm.
While it may seem simple, a team must fully commit and defend as a unit, otherwise the opposition is able to break on quick counter attacks, just as Liverpool did to give Man City their first defeat of the season. Mauricio Pochettino of Tottenham and Jürgen Klopp of Liverpool have implemented this high-press system into their teams, as well.
This season Man City have forced teams to park the bus against them in fear of getting trampled. City’s players have bought into Pep’s style, forming a clear identity. Clearly, City has a roster that’s loaded with talent. But while this system requires the right players individually, it can only be executed effectively if the team form around it as a whole. Credit Pep for convincing his players of its merit and viability.
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