MANAGER’S CORNER: PEP GUARDIOLA

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Manager’s corner is a new addition to the blog where we examine the philosophies of the world’s greatest coaches.

We begin with Pep Guardiola, who is regarded as the best manager in the world. The Spaniard is said to have managed the greatest club side to have ever played the game. His Barcelona side dominated Spanish and Europe soccer; whilst playing a style of soccer that mesmerized the world. Drawing inspiration from many different tactical systems, Guardiola has developed his own philosophy.

Guardiola is a serial winner and he has won every domestic title that he has ever managed in. He has won league titles in three different countries and has lifted the Champions League multiple times. Incredibly, Guardiola has won 28 trophies as a manager and is only 10 behind the legendary Sir Alex Fergurson’s tally.

Guardiola is a student of the game and various playing systems have inspired his own tactical framework. For example, there are elements of Total Football in his playing style as he expects positional flexibility from the players in his side. Guardiola also utilizes elements of Marcelo Bielsa’s system which is a possession-based system that is played at an extremely high tempo. Also, his time at Barcelona saw him adopt some of the characteristics of Tiki-Taka which is a playing style that is popular in Spain. Though Guardiola has been inspired by some of soccer’s greatest minds, he has still forged his own unique playing philosophy.

Guardiola’s philosophy demands that his players dominate possession of the ball. By dominating possession of the ball, Guardiola’s side can cause the opposition to lose their defensive shape. This creates space for Guardiola’s side to play in and “possession to create space” is the phrase that summarizes Guardiola’s philosophy.

full-backs and overloads

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Full-backs play a significant role in Guardiola’s system as they create space. This was clear at Barcelona with Jordi Alba, who was excelled in this role. The Spaniard places such an importance on the position that he has spent, whilst at Manchester City, just under $170 million dollars on full-backs alone.

Guardiola favors inverting his fullbacks, into central positions, which ensures that there is an overload of his players when compared to the opposition. As the image below shows, Guardiola’s full backs are in central areas and Guardiola’s side now has 5 players in midfield positions. This usually creates an overload as the opposition normally only plays with 4 midfielders.

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LB/RB shows how the full-backs come inside into a central position.

By inverting his wingers in such a manner, Guardiola creates an overload which means that there is always a free man for his player to pass to. This aids his side’s ball retention as it reduces the need to play risky passes. As there is always a free man available, Guardiola’s players can pass in triangles up the pitch. When pressed, the free player can move into a position to complete the triangle. Guardiola’s entire system maximizes their ability to retain possession of the ball.

Space

Guardiola utilizes these overloads to create space for his attackers to exploit. Due to his side’s increased presence in the centre of the field, the opposition usually reacts by narrowing their own formation. The opposition favors this tactic as it increases their own presence in the centre of the field. However, as you can see by the image above, Guardiola instructs his wingers to stay as wide as possible. As the opposition has narrowed their formation, Guardiola’s wingers now have lots of space to play in.

When playing Manchester City, the opposition is caught in a dilemma. Do they cover the wide areas? Or do they cover the central overload? If the opposition pushes wide, then Manchester City dominates the central positions. If they focus on the centre of the pitch, then Guardiola’s wide men have lots of room to play within. Either way, Guardiola’s system present managers with immense difficulties.

Defensive Pressing

A key part of Guardiola’s system is defensive pressing. Pressing has been utilized within soccer since the early 1900s and Guardiola favors pressing as a way of regaining possession of the ball. Unlike Klopp’s Gegenpress, Guardiola’s method of pressing contains two components.

The first part of the press takes place by pressing the ball-carrier and the second part entails pressing the opposition’s players who are passing options for the ball carrier. This dual pressing motion puts the ball-carrier under immediate pressure whilst limiting the options that the ball–carrier has whilst on the ball. This pressing method maximizes the likelihood that the ball-carrier will be dispossessed or make an error which will lead to Guardiola’s side regaining possession of the ball.

Guardiola’s defensive pressing is a crucial component of his system and Guardiola demands that all of his players have the physical capacity to press for 90 minutes.

Systems that have influenced Guardiola’s philosophy

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As we have unpacked Guardiola’s system you can see the elements from different managers that have inspired him. For example, the overloads that he creates across the pitch mimics much of what Marcelo Bielsa tries to achieve. Bielsa’s system ensures that there is always one more defender than the opposition has a striker; and that there is one more attacker than the opposition has defender. Guardiola achieves this through his overloads that create the free man.

By inverting his full-backs Guardiola demands that his players can play in multiple positions and have positional flexibility. Accompany this acknowledgement with the way his team relentlessly press the opposition when defending; then you can see the impact that Total Football has had on his tactical philosophy. We have explored Total Football in an earlier piece and the post can be found by clicking here.

Pep Guardiola’s system of play has given rise to some of the greatest soccer teams this world has ever seen. Manchester City is starting to truly dominate the English Premier League and Guardiola’s relentless playing philosophy enables this. Pep Guardiola is a soccer genius like few have seen before. There are some people who have fundamentally changed soccer. These are Rinus Michels, Marcelo Bielsa and Johan Cruyff. It might be time to add Guardiola to that list.

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