Football is a game won by scoring goals. The more goals your striker scores, the more games and league titles you win. This is common knowledge for any football fan.
What is also common knowledge is that Pep Guardiola is a footballing genius and one of the most respected managers in the game. Even the most bitter rival fans and players alike agree that Pep can turn fortunes around for a club and take them from “title challengers” to “consistent champions.” He did it at Barcelona, where Pep won the treble, and then at Bayern Munich where he dominated German football, and he is doing it yet again at Manchester City this season.
Complete dominance in possession, progressing the ball with short but accurate passes and playing a large part of the game in the final third is the blueprint of Pep’s philosophy. Before the opposition thinks of taking a breath, his team is coming at them again, all guns blazing.
Pep, City adopt a striker-less system
When analyzed, every successful team Pep has managed has always had a focal point up front. As the attack progresses from midfield, there has always been a “target player” responsible for putting the ball in the net.
At Barcelona it was Leo Messi, at Bayern it was Robert Lewandowski and at Manchester City, it has been Sergio Aguero.
Having missed out on winning the league last season to Liverpool and because of heavy investment over the summer, the onus was on Pep to hit the bar he had set for himself and reach the standards a club like Man City demanded. With Aguero sidelined due to injuries this season, Pep showed great tactically flexibility by playing a striker-less system, moving one of his talented midfielders into a false nine role.
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Yes, Pep Guardiola won the biggest and toughest football league in the world without a striker.
In theory, this looks like a very confusing way to play. In the end, it doesn’t matter how many chances a team creates, if there is no person in the right place at the right time, positioned to put the ball in the net.
This was prominent in the Arsenal game in February. On a few occasions, Kevin De Bruyne played the false nine. A few minutes later, he dropped into midfield and Raheem Sterling became the false nine. A few minutes later, Bernardo Silva would transition from attacking midfield, push forward into the number 9 spot and Sterling slid out to the wings.
What is amazing about this is the silky smooth way it occurred, with complete team understanding. Suddenly there is no single striker responsible for putting the ball in the net, but in a way, the whole attack and midfield are getting in the box and creating chances. Ilkay Gündoğan had his best season in a City shirt, scoring a total of 13 EPL goals.
This system worked to a point that, even when Aguero was match-fit, Pep still kept him on the bench and stuck with his striker-less system. Pep has shown that even when the circumstances are less than desirable, he has molded himself and his team to defeat the odds. To quote Charles Darwin, “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent; it is the one most adaptable to change.”
In a few days time, Man City will play Chelsea in the Champions League Final and the Citizens have a very good chance of winning it, in my opinion. They have a squad filled with talent and a winning mentality, a great combination that could get them over the line.