It wasn’t long ago that I wrote about how Manchester City looked stale and bored of Pep Guardiola’s style and constant meticulous tactics.
Always praised for his attention to detail and the tweaks he makes so often depending on the opposition, this season has seen a much more reserved version of ‘Pep Ball’.
Manchester City this year have been much slower in possession, much less ruthless in front of goal and nowhere near as intense off the ball.
Originally it was thought this was down to the lack of pre-season that the club had and they were just taking a while to get back up to speed. Then it was down to injuries, then as mentioned, staleness and a need for change. Now though, it’s clear it is all deliberate.
Guardiola has set his team up in a more conservative way in order to be able to play his best players more often. City will often start games quickly, looking for an early goal, and then retreat into themselves as the game goes on.
This is seen in the fact that of their 21 goals in the Premier League this season, only six have come in the second half. They’re also the lowest scorers in the top half of the division, level with West Ham United.
Guardiola has gone with a 4-2-3-1 system more often than not so far, using Rodri and one one of Fernandinho or Ilkay Gundogan in the double pivot with Kevin De Bruyne more advanced. That lessens the running of the three midfielders, but also allows the team to keep the ball higher up the field and keep a strong base defensively.
The Blues have got the best defence in the Premier League so far this season, conceding just 12 goals in 14 games which is even more impressive considering they conceded five of those in the game against Leicester.
While it’s not the entertaining, free-flowing football that we’re used to seeing from a Guardiola team it is getting results to an extent. They’ve lost just twice this season in the league but the lack of firepower early on has seen them draw five times.
Currently they sit just outside the top four, but have a game in hand which could potentially allow them to move into those places.
City seem to be undergoing a bit of a rebuild currently and this is Guardiola’s way of stemming the flow and maintaining results while not hanging the team out to dry for the gap in quality.
Expect somewhat of a title challenge this season but not a genuine one as we’ve seen in recent years, followed by a spending spree in the summer.
One thing is for sure, it’s highly unlikely that we will see them return to their high-scoring, free flowing ways of days gone by any time soon.