Pep Guardiola is the most successful manager of his generation. His incredible record stands at 32 trophies in 14 years. His count goes to 33 when you include his Tercera División crown with Barcelona B. With that amount of success comes influence.

Pep Guardiola isthe Exceptional One

There are coaches around the world that want their teams to play like a Guardiola side. Even his rivals are full of praise. In 2012, Real Madrid legend Jorge Valdano told Yahoo EuroSport,

“He [Pep] is the Steve Jobs of football: experimental, brave, a lover of beauty and innovative. He is a reference point in world football and rightly so. Barca have turned their football into a culture.”

Throughout his illustrious career, the Catalan coach has changed the way we view the sport. At Barcelona and Bayern Munich he changed minds. Now, he is attempting to do the same at Manchester City.

Innovation # 1: Tiki Taka

Guardiola received the basis of his style of play from two of his former managers. Johan Cruyff is arguably the most influential person in the modern history of soccer. As an iconic player and manager, he spread the philosophy of total football. Guardiola was Cruyff’s star defensive midfielder on the “Dream Team.”

Pep ended his playing career with Dorados in Mexico. There he was coached by Juan Manuel Lillo. Many consider him to be the father of the 4-2-3-1 formation and the creator of positional play. It is a structured style that uses choreographed movements and overloads to catch opponents off-balance. When Mikel Arteta left for Arsenal, Guardiola hired Lillo as his assistant manager. In the summer, Lillo left to become the head coach of Al Sadd.

After combining total football, positional play and the reinvention of the false 9 role, you get tiki-taka. Ironically, the term was initially coined in 2006 by Spanish broadcaster Andrés Montes to describe their national team. It ended up being used to describe how Barcelona dominated the ball. Guardiola does not like the term as he feels it means to pass for the sake of passing.

Innovation #2: Inverted fullbacks

Many consider Guardiola’s time Bayern Munich to be a disappointment. He inherited a team that just won the treble and he lost three consecutive Champions League semi-finals to La Liga teams. The Bavarians won the Bundesliga title every year under the 52-year-old, but that is considered a given. Even though they won the Bundesliga by 10+ points every season, clubs gave them trouble during a certain phase in matches.

Most clubs in Germany use counter-pressing. The objective is to use intensity to press when your opponent is in possession of the ball. By countering the counter-attack, it is easier to create goal-scoring opportunities when the defense lacks shape. To combat this action, Guardiola asked his fullbacks, usually David Alaba and Philipp Lahm, to tuck into the midfield and serve as a double pivot. The defensive midfielder dropped deep to join the backline. The fullbacks were able to fill the role easily due to their positional awareness, versatility and technique.

Innovation #3: The Front Five

On January 5, Guardiola decided to change his team’s shape for a Premier League match against Chelsea. He has tinkered with many varying formations throughout the years but has mostly relied on 4-3-3. However, in his last season with Barcelona, he switched to a 3-4-3 diamond to put Cesc Fabregas in the starting line-up.

Lionel Messi ended up scoring 50 goals in the league and 73 in all competitions. However, Barcelona lost the league title to Real Madrid by nine points. Los Blancos became the first team to get 100 points in a single-season within one of Europe’s top five leagues.

Fast forward to the present day and Erling Haaland is on pace to shatter the Premier League’s single-season scoring record. However, the Citizens are only sat second and it seems like they are too reliant on the Norwegian.

Against Chelsea, Guardiola decides to switch his team to a 3-2-4-1. They win 1-0 thanks to a Riyad Mahrez tap-in from a Jack Grealish cross. Afterwards, the team keeps the shape, alienating a key player.

“As I already said, he [Guardiola] found a way to play, after the World Cup, in which he started playing with a fullback more inside, where I also played, and he liked what he saw with Rico [Lewis] and Nathan [Ake],” said Joao Cancelo to Portuguese newspaper O Jogo.

Cancelo is now on loan at Bayern Munich and the German club has an option to buy the defender in the summer for $76 million.

Pep has been influenced by historic tactics and he will shape the future

The 3-2-4-1 might be a new formation for the side, but Guardiola’s teams have built up attacking play in this manner since he started coaching. The difference now is that he prefers for the back three to consist of three natural center-backs instead of having Kyle Walker tuck inside from the right-back position. Rico Lewis’ main position is right-back and as an academy graduate he is a product of the manager’s system. Now his coach compares him to an all-time great.

“There are players who play for themselves really well, but he [Rico] has the ability to make all the team play better. He has this ability and it’s not easy to find it. He is our little Philipp Lahm,” Guardiola stated following the Chelsea match.

City face teams that utilize low defensive blocks most of the time. By having a front five, it forces the opponent to come out of their shell to handle the potential numerical overloads they will face.

Guardiola has attacked with five before, but it was with midfielders or fullbacks. By using a combination of natural forwards, wingers and no. 10s up front, it provides more creativity. In turn, Bernardo Silva is now a utility left-back and defensive midfielder roaming all over the pitch. Walker is now a winger managing a flank by himself.

Between the 1890s and 1930s, most teams around the world used a front five. The pyramid and WM systems ruled that era. Now Guardiola is trying recreate this function with his own unique tweaks.

He is able to tinker due to his talented and versatile roster. Recently, he downplayed, City’s chances of winning the treble this season. Even if they only win the Champions League and the 3-2-4-1 features, then prepare to see new copycats very soon.

Photo Credit: IMAGO / Laci Perenyi