The first game was meant to be all about Haaland announcing himself by tearing up the West Ham defense to bits. It happened exactly according to the script for Haaland. But, the only difference was that he was not the spotlight on the day. In fact, i always believed that Stopping Haaland would be one of the most tiring tactical exercises for managers around the league. But, what Pep did with his full backs on that opening day stunned all the rival managers and shock was clearly apparent on the face of David Moyes.
Towards the end of Last season, i thought that we were struggling to break down opposition defenses that were set up in a low block and told to defend in a narrow channel. It seemed a bit stale and people were sort of beginning to question if City were figured out. This took me back to the end of that 2017 season when we got a 100 points. That season as well teams at the end slowly started to man mark Fernandinho with their strikers. This completely cut off the outlet for us to play through midfield. Pep responded then by playing a box to box midfielder beside Fernandinho to counter that.
The fascination this season was about the new tactical ideas that Pep will implement to counter this problem of dealing with low blocks. Surely, everyone thought that a left back was the answer to our problem. The basic idea behind this thought was that a natural left back could go on the outside and offer width, unlike Cancelo who cuts in predominantly. With this the defenses could find it difficult to defend narrow, since the opposition full back has to stop the crosses from coming in. With the arrival of Haaland and us being linked heavily to Cucurella, we were very confident that we were on the same page as Pep for the first time.
But Pep is not called a genius for nothing. He was already able to foresee an apparent problem with this approach of using full backs to maintain width. The problem was defending against counter attacks, which we do all the time. This was one of the reasons why Pep didn’t stick with the strategy of using full backs to maintain width. Pre-season was an example of this and we were getting caught on the counters quite a bit with this approach. The goal Club America scored in our first pre-season friendly showed the perils of using this approach.
The mind blowing thing about this approach of tucking in both the midfielders is the offensive strength it gives us along with defensive security at the back. You suddenly have a Gundogan and De Bruyne not needing to worry about defensive work and over whelming the opposition defenses with numbers. This new approach also means that teams will now struggle to leave their strikers up front, because that would mean less numbers in the box and you can never expect to defend man to man against City. Everyone in this City team can absolutely take you to the cleaners in a one on one situation. So, doubling up is the only option and this would mean that the opponents will be suffocated without an attacking outlet.
This new tactical set up of tucking in full backs might be the best approach for both League football and also knock out football. It has taken Pep time, but it seems that he has finally arrived at a shape that is suitable for all kinds of conditions and tournaments. Yes, there will be tactical tweaks, but the fundamentals of the system will remain the same. The biggest obstacle of managers competing against City would surely be to outthink Pep, rather than planning to stop individual players. The tactical system is greater than any single player and it is this strength that has made us win 4 out of the last 5 Premier League titles