It seemed like the centurions season happened just yesterday. But, time flies by so fast and you never quite realize the value of it till the very end. All of you might wonder why am I talking about the centurions season now. In fact, that season is far from the way we are playing right now. The connection is surely there between then and now. If you all remember, Pep played a back 3 with Aguero and Jesus as strikers against Liverpool in that centurions season. We won that match 5-0, but he could not replicate it afterwards.
Pep was speaking about how Barcelona lost the hunger in his final season and they could not win the title. But, an other important thing happened in Pep’s final season with Barca. He tried to play a back 3. The details are important because Pep is exactly trying to do the same thing at City now. Specially with the arrival of Haaland, it seems that Pep’s hands are forced in a way to play this system. A lot of City fans I have been speaking to have told me that our football has not been so fluid this season. Those mesmeric patterns and subtle movements that would draw our breath away are missing.
I will have to agree with all of them, but I feel that it was a compromise we had to make in order to win the Champions League. Even when Barca won the Champions League under Pep, they had natural strikers like Samuel Eto and David Villa. So, in order to win a knock out competition you need a brute force out there who only dreams of goals and nothing else. This is the reason why City went for Harry Kane to the maximum extent they could. Harry Kane was one player who could have ensured the mesmeric play was not compromised in favour of goal scoring.
Now with Haaland, you no longer have that luxury of your striker dropping into the midfield. This means that you have to get numbers in from some where to balance the tables and win the midfield battle. This is where the inverted full back comes into the equation. Pep has been trying it from the start of the season. But, it felt lethargic and static due to the fact that Walker is not as good on the ball in tight spaces. This meant that most opponents were leaving him free with the knowledge that he is probably the most limited player on the ball at City.
Rico Lewis has been a blessing for Pep. Otherwise, the title race was over a long back for us. The other important thing which Rico Lewis does is the protection he offers against quick transitions. If you observe closely, there are almost no transitions in the matches when Rico Lewis plays in that Inverted role. He sucks the entire opposition midfield into pressing him and gets out of tight spaces very cleverly. It is just a matter of time till the opposition teams give up pressing Rico Lewis
The entire structure looks good except the fact that we do not have natural wing backs/ wingers who can provide width. This is the reason why teams like Brentford and Everton have taken points from us. I know that Mahrez and Grealish are doing a top job. But, I feel that we can see the quality of this system unravelling with the addition of a winger who is quick and fast with the ability to drag defenders away. People feel that City have been rusty this season, but I believe we are in a transition phase where we are adapting to playing with a new system to accommodate our brute force in Erling Haaland. The back 3 system looks to be the foundation and the future for the next few years at City.