Football Features

Man City are entering a new, exciting phase with Guardiola in the ‘form’ of his coaching career

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 11:27, 10 February 2021

Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City are five points clear atop the Premier League table with a game in-hand on their rivals.

City have just devastated defending Premier League champions 4-1 at Anfield to increase their lead over the Reds to 10 points (with the aforementioned game in-hand) and while there is still a ways to go before the season ends, right now it’s hard to look past Guardiola’s men winning their third title in the last four years (and the third in five under the Catalan).

It’s so hard to look beyond City for many reasons, in part because the win at Anfield has caused this current run of form to quite literally be the best of Guardiola’s entire coaching career.

Yes, even better than his legendary Bayern Munich team and even better than Barcelona under his leadership. Barca 2008-2012 is possibly the greatest club side of all-time but they never managed to do what City have just done.

What have City done? Well, ever since they were held 1-1 at the Etihad by West Brom in the middle of December, City have gone on a tear. They’ve won and won and won. 14 games played, 14 games won. 10 in the league, two in the FA Cup, two in the EFL Cup. They’re top of the league, through to the fifth round of the FA Cup and in the final looking to claim their fourth-straight EFL Cup.

It seems incredible, but it’s true. When considering all competitions, Guardiola had never won four straight games. In 2013/14 he did manage an incredible 13 game win-streak between Champions League ties against Manchester City (of all teams) and Arsenal.

Of course, when one considers league-only runs then Guardiola’s best, indeed the Premier League’s best, is 18 consecutive wins. His league-only streak stands at 10 right now, but extending that across all competitions is a completely different level of excellence given it demands constant focus and intelligent squad rotation to keep the momentum going even in lesser cup games.

Guardiola’s 14 wins in a row is not only a personal best, but it equals the best-ever winning streak seen in English football. That belonged to George Graham’s Arsenal who also won 14 straight back in 1987, and it’s one that you’d expect City to break with their next game coming away to Swansea in the FA Cup.

The shots faced by Manchester City during their winning run.

Should they win that, well goodness knows how far they could go to set a new benchmark. The league record would be eight games away and in that run, City would need to beat Spurs, Everton, Arsenal, Man Utd, bogey team Leicester and, should they get that far, could set a new record of 19 wins by beating Leeds at home in April. So it’s a tall order, but it’s also not one you could put beyond City given current form.

City really have been absurd on their winning streak, but not in the way you’d associate with Guardiola’s very best side. Since the West Brom draw, in the Premier League they’ve created 112 chances, 25 big chances had 146 shots and scored 25 goals. All very impressive to be sure, but 25 goals is second to Man Utd, their shot total is sixth-highest, 112 chances is only good enough for seventh (behind Brighton!) and while 25 big chances created reflects the sheer incisive quality of their play, it trails United by seven.

Where City have really shone on this run is at the back. Powered by Ruben Dias and John Stones’ partnership, as well as the emergence of Joao Cancelo as arguably the best two-way full-back in the league, what used to be Guardiola’s weak point at City has been transformed.

The defensive actions of Man City’s first-choice back four during their winning run.

The Sky Blues have kept eight clean sheets across their 10 league wins, conceding just twice. Seriously. Two goals. One a late consolation for Chelsea in a game City were already leading and another Mohamed Salah’s penalty that he won with some excellent theatrics.

And when you look at the full 14 games, you’ll see they only conceded two further goals. Alexandre Lacazette, Callum Hudson-Odoi, Alfie May and Mohamed Salah. That’s it, that’s the list of men that have scored against City on their winning streak. Four goals conceded from 92 shots faced in 14 games. That is utterly ridiculous defensive power.

What makes this run even more impressive is that they’ve done half of it without their star man Kevin De Bruyne and the vast majority of it without main striker Sergio Aguero. The Argentine has been ravaged by injury this season and has played just 33 minutes across the winning-streak, failing to score a goal. Usually, losing those two would have been a death sentence, but Pep has adapted.

Gone are the “free eights” of years past, replaced by a sensible midfield balance of a defensive midfielder (usually Rodri) and attacking midfielder (De Bruyne or Bernardo Silva), bridged by a central midfielder who has been Ilkay Gundogan. The German can drive on into attack, and indeed has been City’s top scorer during this winning run, but is also capable of sitting deeper to help negotiate opponents’ lines of pressing and chase back on counters.

Gundogan has been City’s top scorer in this run with eight goals. Second in that time? Phil Foden, the young sensation who has been the breakout star of the winning streak. He’s emerged as a dangerous presence in the final third, adding thrust to a side that, these days, is just as concerned with stopping the opponent as scoring themselves.

Watching City go on this incredible winning streak, which is about to set a record in English football, you can see that this is a new phase of Guardiola’s time as manager. This is the longest he’s been at a single club and after having two years of hurricane attacking play, the Catalan has reorganised his team, building from the back in every sense of the word.

There aren’t as many crushing wins like his Bayern, and the football isn’t anything like as magical as his Barcelona, but Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City have now emerged into a class of their own as one of his legendary sides by becoming a defensive juggernaut, shutting down opponents and powering their way to win after win after win.