Monday 23 September 2019

Guardiola keeps fans in their seats with tactical switches

Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola. Photo: Carl Recine/Reuters
Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola. Photo: Carl Recine/Reuters

Paul Hayward

"Now we have won, the coach is a genius," said Pep Guardiola, sarcastically, when asked about the tactical changes that had transformed this game and perhaps Manchester City's season.

In the wake of defeats by first Chelsea and then Leicester, the City manager had become increasingly irritated by questions about how tactics that had worked triumphantly in Spain and Germany were becoming unstuck in the rougher, harsher world of the Premier League.

One-nil down after five minutes against Arsenal and with a £50m defender in the shape of John Stones on the bench, those tactics would have been questioned again by the Manchester City faithful.

The second-half transformation that saw City run out 2-1 winners to climb to second in the table, six points behind Chelsea, was a perfect answer.

The change Guardiola effected during the interval was to tell Raheem Sterling and Leroy Sane to swap flanks.

In the absence of the suspended Sergio Aguero, Sterling, whose brilliantly-taken second goal secured the victory, had begun the evening as a striker before going to the left and then the right wing.

"We decided to put Sterling as a striker. He would not be a striker for the crosses because we don't have a striker for the crosses.

"But he could take the ball between the lines and go one against one because he is so fast," said Guardiola.

"But in the first half Kevin De Bruyne was a little bit out of the game and that is why in the second half we put the right-footer on the right side and the left-footer on the left side and tried to get four against three in the middle. Always we have ideas, sometimes good and sometimes not.

"In the second half we played more without a striker, more like two number 10s to play behind Francis Coquelin and Granit Xhaka, to make the movements outside and inside."

It was, Guardiola said "a good day", though he had a gentle dig at those Manchester City fans who, too often, choose to leave the Etihad Stadium before the final whistle.

"It means a lot to win against one of the best teams in the Premier League. It was a good comeback," he said.

"Our performance was quite similar to the one against Chelsea. Against Chelsea we actually created more chances. Today we were unlucky because they scored the first goal. It was a good game and I think we dominated. This is what we are looking for. The victories give a lot of confidence in the minds of the players in what we are trying to do.

"I am so happy for the fans. They stayed until the 94th minute. Normally, they go with 10 minutes left. We have to play well and then they will stay with us. We have eight days to recover and prepare for Hull City and Anfield."

This, said Guardiola, was a victory plotted on the training pitches of the Etihad Campus. "In the last three days we spent two-and-a-half hours on second balls on the training field," he said. "It works. It is part of the game here. You have to be compact for the second balls and in the last couple of games we have been better in that sense.

"We are not a tall or physical team like most of the teams in England but you have to be in the right position. Today is a good day. We are second in the Premier League."

Guardiola did not deny this was a hugely significant comeback for Manchester City. Had they lost, they would have been 10 points adrift of Chelsea. "It means a lot," he said.

"Since September 17, we had won just one game here, against Watford. That was not because we didn't deserve it.

"When we played Southampton in the first half we didn't deserve anything but against Middlesbrough and, especially against Everton and Chelsea, we deserved more.

"Seven points is a huge distance and if a team like Chelsea can make 11 victories in a row, you just have to say congratulations." (© Independent News Service)

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