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City’s Masterstroke: Pep Guardiola playing 4-4-2.

City’s Masterstroke: Pep Guardiola playing 4-4-2.

The Julian Alvarez-Erling Haaland partnership is proving to be yet another brilliant Man City move under Pep Guardiola’s 4-4-2 formation.

At the Etihad Stadium, the Catalan coach is adopting a more traditional system after choosing to play without a striker just two seasons prior.

A group of elite former players on BT Sport last year praised Pep Guardiola for changing the face of English football.

Rio Ferdinand, Joe Cole, and Glen Hoddle all praised the Manchester City manager for encouraging the country to embrace European ideas and claimed that since the serial-winning Catalan had arrived in England in 2016, he had helped change the culture for the better.

The European style of play and our football-related beliefs have now been adopted, Ferdinand claimed.

“Being in and around the academies, the coaching is so different from when we were kids, when it was all shouting and dragging people left and right.

As opposed to that, Guardiola’s culture is very much at play today and has greatly influenced the way that football is played. Hoddle continued, “Back in the ’70s and ’80s, we were set in our ways, playing 4-4-2.”.

Every time this idea has been raised, Guardiola has always dismissed it, claiming he hasn’t changed English football and never intended to.

I didn’t change it at all, I assure you.

Sincerity be damned, I didn’t change anything. Every manager has his own ideas.

However, he has acknowledged that playing football in England has altered him and that he has taken “many things” from his adopted country.

“Obviously, this place changed me. I learned about new managers, new managers’ styles, and new ways to interact with my players and the media. Every manager has improved from the manager you were at first.”.

In some games last season, Guardiola used four centre-backs and converted Nathan Ake and Manuel Akanji into full-backs, emulating Tony Pulis, who is typically viewed as his philosophical opposite.

Additionally, he has adopted a dated notion this season by using the 4-4-2 formation that Hoddle cited as evidence of how out of date the English game had become.

Next game.

The reasoning behind Guardiola’s most recent tactical plan, however, is incredibly straightforward: it is a way to accommodate his two elite strikers, Erling Haaland and Julian Alvarez.

Every innovation that Guardiola makes, however, takes a lot of thought and planning.

A pair of transfer coups.

City successfully completed two transfers in 2022, one in each window.

They acquired Alvarez from River Plate in January even though he was hardly known outside of South America. They spent about £15 million ($18 million) on a player who was 21 years old at the time and allowed him to stay with his club through the summer.

Prior to moving to England in May, Alvarez, the top scorer in the Argentine top division, scored six goals in one game against Allianza Lima.

Later that year, City revealed they had reached an agreement to sign Haaland, who had scored an average of one goal per game for Borussia Dortmund and had dominated the Champions League.

Being only £51 million ($63 million), it was a sensational move for City, but it was bad news for Alvarez, who was now vying for a spot in the team with the most feared striker in the world.

Alvarez did initially start alongside Haaland in one game, though, and things couldn’t have gone any better as the Argentine scored twice and the Norwegian scored three times in a 6-0 thrashing of Nottingham Forest.

Alvarez, on the other hand, started just three Premier League games prior to the World Cup and was forced to maximize his opportunities as a substitute while the Norwegian had a brilliant debut season in English football, shattering nearly every goalscoring record imaginable.

“Need different players to open up opportunities.”.

Alvarez played every game at the World Cup, scoring four goals, including an incredible individual goal against Croatia in the semifinals, and did not let his lack of playing time with City affect his reputation with Argentina. Guardiola was under more pressure to find a spot for him now that he had conquered the globe as Lionel Messi’s strike partner.

However, he continued to resist starting both he and Haaland together in most games, reasoning that doing so would reduce his team’s overall chances of producing scoring opportunities.

It can happen [Haaland and Alvarez playing together], the coach said in January.

You have two strikers in the box when the ball enters, giving you a chance to score.

However, in order to create these chances, a process must first be established, and occasionally this requires the involvement of different kinds of players.

“If you have two or three chances in the box, that would be the best case scenario if I had the impression that we were creating them.

However, if you are working with Haaland, it’s possible that all of the processes are flawed, there are numerous people involved in the beginning, there are numerous transitions, and there are issues later on.

They can, however, work together, especially when playing against a back five.”.

“Incredible weapon.”.

In the latter part of the league campaign, Alvarez was given the opportunity to start alongside Haaland against Fulham, West Ham, Leeds, and Everton, even though he primarily operated as a wide forward rather than a central striker.

His best performance came at Craven Cottage, where he earned a penalty that Haaland converted in addition to scoring an incredible long-range goal that proved to be the game-winner.

This time, Guardiola waxed poetic about the virtues of playing both of his forwards, saying: “To have two strikers is an incredible weapon that we have.

Still, Guardiola only occasionally employed this “incredible weapon.”. Alvarez finished the season having started just 13 of his 31 Premier League games.

There were only eight of those near Haaland.

He did not play in either the FA Cup final against Manchester United or the final against Inter for City in the Champions League. Despite getting little playing time, he ended up scoring 17 goals across all competitions and added three more trophies to his World Cup winner’s medal.

Not a bad debut season, was it?

Manchester City in the years 2023–24 by Erling Haaland.

Perfect strike partnership.

Alvarez, along with Haaland, has led the line for the entirety of every game thus far this season.

Haaland scored three goals and had one assist in the 5-1 thrashing of Fulham prior to the international break, while Alvarez had one of each.

The Argentine has contributed to two of City’s 11 goals so far, both of which were set up by Haaland.

The Norwegian has six goals and one assist for Alvarez.

Although it is still early, and never underestimate Guardiola’s ability to completely alter his preferred starting lineup in the middle of the season, it currently appears to be the best pairing, at least in terms of statistics.

But it should not be overlooked that City’s victory over Fulham was far from a flawless showing. Juanma Lillo, filling in for Guardiola while he recovered from back surgery, cited the performance’s “lack of fluidity” and the fact that City were not “fresh with the ball.”.

In addition, at halftime, he had to motivate Haaland to keep his composure.

It’s difficult for anyone to win a game like this, but for a No. Because it is difficult to connect with the others at the right time when you have these traits, it is even harder,” he said.

In fact, I told him that this type of game is difficult for a striker with your traits, but that you can still have a bad game and score goals for us at halftime.”.

Alvarez and Haaland’s partnership, he continued, “means they push more towards the opposition goal than contribute to the game itself.

If the team is not giving the number of passes that we need to get closer to them then it makes it even more difficult for them.”.

“Julian is not afraid to keep attacking; he is constantly prepared, and Erling is as well.

Because of this, I believe that this type of player is greatly impacted by the general characteristics of this performance.”.

From having no strikers to having a front two.

Guardiola, a relentless innovator and perfectionist, had virtually abandoned the concept of a central striker in previous campaigns.

He used Kevin De Bruyne as a false nine in the 2021 Champions League final and didn’t use Sergio Aguero and Gabriel Jesus until the very last few minutes.

Despite spending a significant sum of money to sign Zlatan Ibrahimovic the year before, he let go of Samuel Eto’o and then Zlatan Ibrahimovic after each played one season for Barcelona.

In fact, the coach’s decision to bring in Haaland for City was seen as a major departure, evidence of his influence on English football, and a sign that he was in need of a pure goal scorer.

The idea of using two strikers, neither of whom has done much work outside the area this season, almost defies belief given his background.

Instead, it resembles the early seasons of the Premier League, when Chris Sutton and Alan Shearer led Blackburn to the championship in 1994–1955, or Dwight Yorke and Andy Cole led Manchester United to the triple crown.

Quality over control is the main priority.

The author of the book “Another Way of Winning” about Guardiola’s time at Barcelona, journalist Guillem Balague, has described how the Catalan was forced to reconsider his strategy following a trophyless debut campaign with City.

“He had to get accustomed to his new environment, and English football forced him to alter some of his personal beliefs.

With a central midfielder who was neither particularly strong nor overly physical, he arrived confident in his conviction that you could control a game and set the pace for your team. But he soon discovered that strategy was ineffective in the Premier League,” Balague wrote in a BBC column.

In England, a central midfielder who excels in aerial duels and 50-50s is essential.

A good illustration of what he believes he needs is Rodri.

Additionally, when a center-back moves forward, he expects his central midfielders to step in as a defender, so they must be physically capable of handling that role.

And then there is something else that Guardiola was worried about, but is gradually realizing he has to accept – that English football, full of the high octane emotion that comes from the stands, is frequently played amid a general lack of control, similar to two heavyweight boxers hitting each other in the knowledge that someone is going to go down, and that more often than not the one with the most talent will prevail.”.

Between Mike Bassett and Johan Cruyff.

Alvarez and Haaland are arguably the highest-caliber duo in the modern game. But it’s fascinating that Guardiola seems set on using both of his strikers at once after largely resisting the urge during much of last season.

It demonstrates how innovative he is constantly trying to be in order to stay one step ahead of his competitors, even if that means using a formation that many people would consider to be outmoded.

4-4-2 has a long history of being linked to agricultural football and England’s reluctance to modernize, as Hoddle hinted.

Even in the satirical 2001 movie “Mike Bassett: England Manager,” the formation was referenced.

Could it be that Guardiola, whose footballing mentor was Johan Cruyff, is now learning from a humorous caricature of English football? In the most memorable scene, the old-fashioned Bassett, having been chastised by the press for his out-of-date methods, decides to double down on his ideas, telling a stunned press conference: “England will be playing four-four-f*cking-two!”.

Guardiola’s 4-4-2 formation is significantly more modern than earlier iterations used throughout the history of English football, and his brand of play is impossible to categorize because he constantly varies it throughout the course of a season and while a game is in progress.

The next step in his development is, however, his newly discovered preference for having two masters of the penalty spot on the same team.

The length of his commitment will be interesting to watch.

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