The Catalan’s tactical framework is top secret but it has emerged that he is working on specific improvements to help deliver European success
Manchester City fans worried about it, journalists enquired about it.
Would Amazon’s ‘All or Nothing’ documentary leak Pep Guardiola’s closely guarded tactical secrets to the world?
Of course not. For one thing, the Barcelona-based MediaPro are co-producers and their links to City’s Catalans are so established that they would not want to reveal any sensitive information any more than City themselves would.
And when it comes to the day-to-day life at Manchester City, there is little more sensitive than Guardiola’s tactical secrets.
The Catalan’s methodology is top secret. Only his trusted lieutenants and the club’s head analysts – a group of less than 10 people – have access to the password-protected files containing the Premier League champions’ most detailed plans.
Everybody else, including many City coaches and visitors from governing bodies, is kept well away from rooms where these plans are written down in notepads, or displayed on tactical boards.
One of those boards features heavily in ‘All or Nothing’, but it is one thing to highlight Guardiola’s desire to get his team in behind Liverpool’s high defence. The real information, the advice to players, the triggers, the passing patterns, are quite another.
And with no sign of a third Marti Perarnau tactical opus in the works, the majority of City’s plans for domestic and European domination will remain under lock and encryption key.
But sources close to the City boss have told Goal that he has come up with brand new ideas ahead of a fresh assault on the Champions League.
The Catalan is not only working on general improvements, but specific new passing combinations and subtle tweaks specifically designed to be useful in European competition.
There is no coach more scrutinised than Guardiola when it comes to success in the Champions League and in the coming months he will be asked time and again about his record in the competition and whether he can finally win the trophy for a third time – something only two men have achieved in history.
But with a squad as talented, versatile and intelligent as the one he has assembled, it is right that expectations are high of City this season.
And Guardiola is targeting at least a semi-final appearance.
As far back as April, when City were knocked out by Liverpool, he had established three key areas in need of particular improvement.
He believes City can improve individually, collectively and emotionally.
Any player should be capable of individual improvement but Guardiola wants to see more from specific members of his squad. For example, for Raheem Sterling to improve his finishing, for John Stones and Gabriel Jesus to maintain their confidence, and for Kyle Walker and Nicolas Otamendi, among others, to eradicate mistakes in big games.
Guardiola also wants his team to evolve tactically, something that has become evident in the early weeks of the new season. City have used different shapes in each of their five games so far and their two first home matches highlighted Guardiola’s desire to mix things up; in the first he kept his pacey players on the bench and filled the team with central playmakers; in the second he emptied the middle of the pitch and played Sterling and Riyad Mahrez in something resembling a front four.
The City boss accepted long before last season ended that his side would most likely not break all records once again this time around, so he focused instead on making them even more solid – particularly in the biggest games – and, above all, eradicating any complacency. In recent weeks he has repeatedly challenged his charges to avoid some of the early-season problems he endured at Barcelona and Bayern Munich, where his defending champions suffered shock results, and has introduced a raft of training ground fines in a bid to keep players on their toes.
And when it comes to the Champions League he will go even further. As well as the general improvements he is working hard to implement, he has developed new in-game passing patterns.
As one example, which would work on either flank, City have been practising a method of getting in behind a defence by playing the ball out from the goalkeeper to a centre-back, on to a full-back, directly into a forward, back to a midfielder and then out to a winger.
Article continues below
City are keeping their opponents guessing by switching the positions of two players, for example a full-back and an attacking midfielder. Key to that particular ploy will be Benjamin Mendy, whose increased tactical understanding has already proven important for the Blues this season.
He has been deadly either out wide or through the middle, and his specific instructions are to attack the space if it opens up for him, or to play it to the winger, who would therefore be free, if the space closes. Simple, but it has proven effective so far, and City are hoping his current injury worries are nothing serious.
City’s line-ups, tactics and performances in these opening weeks are proof that Guardiola is searching for new ways to take his side forward. We’ll soon find out if he can find the answers in Europe.