The Spanish midfielder is the type of player the former Barcelona manager used to triumph with, but his approach is beginning to show a lack of flexibility
Pep Guardiola is about to enter the unknown.
Not once in the 12-year career as a coach of the great Catalan has he attempted a reconstruction; it has sought to inspire a second wave.
The first wave is over. We can say that with confidence after Manchester City’s 2-0 loss to Tottenham, a result that left them eight points behind the top of the Premier League and with an average of points per game leading to a final total of only 57.
But it was the performance and the form of Saturday’s loss that showed just how far City have fallen since they last lifted the title 18 months ago; a decline that appears to have been exacerbated by the unique challenges of pandemic soccer.
Fatigue and a lack of training time, both in the preseason and now during the week, has seen the intensity of pressure and tactical organization drop, giving managers an advantage who favor defensive strength and skills. improvised attack patterns.
José Mourinho’s masterclass on Saturday was the perfect example of how to play in the Covid-19 era.
By contrast, City can’t find its high-octane beats, and as the press drops, the system begins to collapse.
First, without constant pressure being applied, there is no compression between the lines, giving City opponents time to look up and launch counterattacks through the heart of their defense.
Second, without progressive energy in their passing, without the movement or quick thinking to constantly push the other team back, City’s opponents can easily absorb the pressure.
It is a double problem that is best summarized in the performances of Rodri, symbol of the late Guardiola City in more ways than one.
There isn’t enough speed in the Spanish international’s game and many of his passes are sideways, while his attempts at defensive actions lack the optimism necessary to win innings or close counters regularly.
In short, Rodri increasingly represents the ‘tiki-taka’: forceful possession and passive defense, an aimless style of football and a label that Guardiola has always rejected.
Furthermore, Rodri stands out simply because he is not Fernandinho, the former lynchpin of Guardiola’s team and a midfielder with the defensive clout and determined passing needed to tie it all together.
Guardiola’s failure to replace Fernandinho gets to the heart of the problem at City, and why his attempt to create a second dominance spell at the Etihad Stadium might not work.
From Fernandinho to Vincent Kompany, David Silva and Leroy Sane, Guardiola has allowed vital components of that 2017-18 Centurions team to leave (or dwindle) without finding a suitable replacement.
Silva’s work as a pre-assistant, as the man responsible for endlessly pedaling the ball with a dexterity and intelligence that allowed the rest of the team to spin around him, is most missed.
Ilkay Gundogan and Phil Foden lack the cunning in tight spaces to mimic Silva’s influence, subtly slowing the pace of City’s exchanges and consequently allowing the opposition to remain in a compact defensive form.
Ruben Dias could perhaps replace Kompany eventually, but there is certainly a Sane-shaped hole in the side, with Ferran Torres a completely different type of player than the German star. Here again is a poignant symbol of what went wrong.
In hiring Torres and Rodri to replace the outgoing gears, it appears that Guardiola, having inherited a variety of different styles of player, cannot resist the balance and functionality of Spanish-style coaches.
After four years of this style of hiring, the City has been homogenizing little by little; They have been slowly Rodri-fied.
But Rodri is just a symbol, not the main problem.
The two tactical problems that define City this season – a lack of creative variety and poor pressure between the lines – originate in the last third. Without Sane and Silva, and replaced by less athletic players, City lack collective energy as they face the first phase of the press.
In fact, this is starting to look like a deliberate strategy by Guardiola. Perhaps adapting to the fitness concerns brought on by the congested match roster, City are increasingly moving away from their opponents, allowing them to gain a foothold in the game rather than relentlessly pressing to lock them up.
That, in theory, shouldn’t be a problem, but it does become a concern when paired with clunky attack setups.
Too much pressure is put on Kevin De Bruyne to create opportunities, and with the Belgian strangely taking up right wing positions in the last 18 months, a much less dangerous zone than when he conceded with Silva in the 10th space, City’s ability to create the chances are significantly reduced.
However, the main attacking problem is the absence of a direct winger willing to make penetrating runs from behind.
Sane’s role, whether it was receiving the direct pass inside the penalty area or simply pushing players away from Silva, was often underestimated. Now, with City wingers constantly dancing in front of a low block, the importance of the now Bayern Munich player is obvious.
And so City is left with a hesitant and half-hearted press, opening large spaces between its own defense and midfield, and a jaded attack without the necessary runners for Guardiola’s old automatisms to take shape.
When great managers begin to fade, they turn on themselves, duplicating their most obsessive principles and turning into caricatures.
It’s too early to suggest that Guardiola is in permanent decline, but a tendency to favor players like Rodri, and an increasing movement toward aimless ball retention, are worrying early signs.
In other words, the manager’s propensity to replace his key players with classic Guardiola disciples, trading specialized skills for cool off-roaders, casts doubt on his suitability for the job at hand: a rebuild on a scale Guardiola had never attempted before. .
Having earned just two points per game since May 2019, there are reasons to suggest that he may not be able to.
source: – target