Manchester City is currently fifth in the Premier League, and the team’s season hasn’t gone so smoothly behind new coach Pep Guardiola. In this episode of Channel 33, The Ringer’s Chris Ryan and Ryan O’Hanlon look at Guardiola’s unique system and explain some of City’s flaws.
Listen to the full podcast here. This transcript has been edited and condensed.
Some of Guardiola’s Decisions Don’t Make Sense
Chris Ryan: I really, really, really, want the [Manchester] City thing to work out for [Pep] Guardiola. I don’t really care one way or the other about City, but I want him to be successful in the Premier League and to continue to innovate with the game, but I’m just mystified by some of the stuff he does.
Ryan O’Hanlon: Like what?
Ryan: Like Yaya Touré as the sole defensive midfielder in a game against Tottenham, which I guess sort of was working for a while, [with] the way that [Pablo] Zabaleta played the double pivot with Touré that game.
O’Hanlon: This is the thing with City, it’s like there’s a version of the Tottenham game where that [Raheem] Sterling penalty gets called and Gabriel Jesus is not offsides and they win 4–2. And everything’s fine.
Ryan: Yes, everything is fine, but it doesn’t change the fact that Claudio Bravo might not be a Premier League–level goalie, and he’s playing keepy-ups while he’s getting hounded by Tottenham’s front line.
O’Hanlon: That’s true.
Ryan: Like you just have to acknowledge the fact that you’re going to get your ass pressed if you’re playing the Spurs. You guys can’t kick 60 percent hard [passes] back and forth along the back line; it’s crazy!
Guardiola Has to Coach His System
O’Hanlon: There’s the idea that Guardiola plays a difficult system for a player to fit into. And Carlo Ancelotti said this in an interview recently: He said if you bring in Guardiola, you bring him in and you force the players to adapt to his system. Because if you’re not playing his system, what’s the point of having Guardiola?
So he needs time for the players to adapt. He deserves that. City, I think, of any team, have undergone the biggest stylistic change from last year to this year, and that’s not easy. Tottenham in Mauricio Pochettino’s first season, they were kind of terrible.
O’Hanlon: It took [Pochettino] a while to figure it out. But at the same time, you need to know that there are going to be difficulties with that if you’re Guardiola, right? And I think that he’s spoken about not really realizing how important second balls are after a long ball gets played, who wins the ball off of the header.
Because that’s what teams in England do when you press against them: They just bomb it over your head and then you have to deal with it. In a nice world, where everyone’s trying to play good soccer on the ground, that doesn’t happen, but that’s just not where things are. So you have to have a way to deal with that and I don’t think City totally does.
The Idea Is There, but the Execution Isn’t
Ryan: Against Everton, which they lost to 4–0 on January 15, I saw, one patch play early on where you could see what they were doing. They were trying to draw out a team that was chasing the ball; they were trying to wear them down a little bit and they were basically trying to carve them up where you’d swing across. They’d go from [John] Stones back to [Claudio] Bravo out to [Nicolás] Otamendi, across the sort of back line in these kind of complicated passing patterns, and [Romelu] Lukaku was hounding and other Everton players were hounding, and I could see what they were trying to do.
They were trying to open up a whole side of the field for [Kevin] De Bruyne or [David] Silva or Sterling, so there would basically be a secondary counter, a delayed counterattack. The idea was there, but the execution was faulty. And then there was even one time when they got the side of the field they wanted. I think it was either [Gael] Clichy or [Leroy] Sané that had the run and also had Sterling [open] and he made a pass to Sterling, who was just across the halfway point. And it was a bad pass that also bounced off Sterling’s ankle and went out and Everton got the ball back. And I think Everton scored pretty quickly after that.
O’Hanlon: I think Everton had four shots on goal. And they scored with all four. So there are like 75 different reasons for why that happens. Maybe part of it is bad luck, right? A small part of it. But could the goalkeeper have done more? If you’re City, do you need a goalie that …
Ryan: Can stop shots?
O’Hanlon: Yeah, like a shot stopper. You know, the midfield should probably be slowing down an attack to make it not as dangerous [and] the defender should be blocking shots more often, so there’s a bunch of different things, but it’s City and the same with Liverpool —
Ryan: I don’t want to sound like Sam Allardyce where I’m just like, “He’s got to go back to the basics.” I think what he’s doing with fullbacks is brilliant, I love the idea of basically playing a 4–1–6 or whatever the hell he’s playing.