“Passing, yes, but always with a certain intention. And tiki-taka has nothing to do with it.”
If you still have Guardiola as a coach who forced Barcelona, Bayern or City to hold the ball as long as possible, take note.
On Wednesday evening, the bald coach achieved a very important victory in a completely different way. He needed to beat leaders Arsenal in a league clash to finally overtake them in the table. Stand still.
Result – 3:1 for City.
Possession – 64% for Arsenal.
A habit, a big habit! Whatever the tiki-taka, City have never had so little control of the ball in a Premier League game under Guardiola. Never before – and we are talking about a sample of 250 games – have players in pale blue exchanged fewer than 282 passes. On Wednesday, the statistical systems suddenly caught only 219 of them.
That this is exactly how Guardiola planned it, probably not. After the match, he even criticized himself for the tactics he devised for the start of the match, which allowed Arsenal to dictate the tempo in the first half.
Manchester City’s Erling Haaland listens to instructions from coach Pep Guardiola.
“I tried something new and it turned out terrible,” he admitted. “We let them play, they didn’t challenge the passing game and they didn’t have control of the game. Only in the second half.”
This also makes Guardiola perhaps the most cunning coach today. When he realizes a mistake, he immediately admits it and comes up with a workaround in no time. It worked reliably on Wednesday, a different team ran into the second half, much more aggressive, more determined. As if the players only remembered Guardiola’s call from the pre-match press during the break: “If we are worse and lose, fine, that can happen. But we must not lose because we did not show everything we can do. Do you want a title? So fight for him! You have it in your hands. Fight for him to the end!”
It is refreshing to watch Guardiola’s speeches to the press and what the English call mind games. He can get into opponents’ heads, hit a sensitive spot, subtly sway. Did you notice how Arsenal were booed before the game, even though the long reigning rivals have only conceded a point in their last three games?
“They certainly haven’t gotten any worse. On the contrary, they have reached a level where their opponents have to adapt to them. And if you can do this, it means you are a great team.”
Or: “Arsenal have a great history, lots of titles but none of late. That’s an advantage. They have a tremendous hunger that we lack.”
Seriously? In the second half, it seemed that Guardiola managed to awaken this lust in the players. Even though City have won four titles in the last five years, the Spanish expert still manages to motivate the stars. Taking the title away from Arsenal, who already led by eight points, is the next task he has set himself. Although the opposition is only a point behind in the table and has a game in hand, Guardiola knows that he is now very close to the dream.
It almost seems that a victory over City is taboo for Arsenal. Since Guardiola arrived in Manchester, he has recorded one draw and twelve wins in thirteen head-to-head matches. Including Wednesday’s, which could be the key to the title.