For many people, Pep Guardiola is the best manager in the world, and they say this with good reason. He has won an unfathomable amount of trophies (18 major trophies since 2009) in a relatively short amount of time.
In the Barcelona side we saw at the turn of the decade, he helped to create one of the greatest club sides we have ever seen in football, perhaps the greatest of all, one that was perhaps unlucky not to win four straight Champions League titles in each of the years he was with the Catalan giants.
He helped to see in the current age of tactics in football, with his focus on keeping hold of the ball allied to a disciplined and aggressive pressing style.
His success has led most of the world’s top clubs to take an interest in bringing him in as manager, with both Bayern Munich and now Manchester City seeing him as the man to take them onto the next level.
However, times are always changing and the key is to roll with the punches.
Pep’s lack of flexibility
However, there is a danger that his philosophy of playing, where possession is the be-all and end-all and defenders (and goalkeepers) are signed based on their ball-playing qualities, could become a dogma by which he might fall.
It might not happen this season, but it may well happen eventually and an inability to adapt or change may see him fall from his position as the world’s leading coach.
When he first introduced his tactical style, the results and success were plain for all to see, yet since 2011, it has been a case of diminishing returns, albeit at a high level.
For example, at Bayern, he failed to take the European champions back to the final and by the end, there was a feeling he hadn’t quite achieved what had been hoped for upon his arrival.
Last season at City, he failed to get past the last-16 in the Champions League, knocked out by eventual semi-finalists Monaco, and neither challenged for the title nor made any domestic cup final.
His City team were seen as too open at the back to compete, and the defeat to Monaco showed up many of these flaws. Particularly in the home win, there was too much onus on attacking, leaving City exposed at the back to Monaco’s counters, which gave them hope for the return leg.
A steady decline
Other teams are working out how to counter the threat posed by Guardiola’s sides, and he is unable to change his ways.
A symbol of this is John Stones, who is constantly encouraged to think first about bringing the ball out from the back above all else, often at the cost of his own side.
Teams have worked out you can get a chance against City, and more often than not they take them, as shown by Everton a few weeks ago, when they had one shot on target, one goal and subsequently took one point.
To some extent, he has not had players that are good enough to carry out the complex tactical demands he has. Perhaps then he should adapt to the ingredients he is working with rather than asking them to do something they can’t.
All worked out
Ultimately in football, when a tactical style is at first revolutionary and successful, it gets worked out, such is the level of competition at the highest level.
If you remain tactically rigid and inflexible, you will be found out, so you need to adapt, otherwise, you will ultimately lose out.
Guardiola hasn’t lost out yet, but he needs to show a greater willingness to be flexible.
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