Pep Guardiola – Tactical evolution from Barca B to Manchester City

As a manager Pep Guardiola has won 27 trophies – winning eight league titles in 11 years as a coach in La Liga, Bundesliga and the Premier League – he is considered by many as the greatest coach of his generation.

His managerial CV means only the richest, most successful or most powerful of football franchises can secure his services and he often has pick of the crop as to where he chooses to press and pass his way to honours.

Here we will review the 49 year-old’s thirteen years in management to look at his development tactically from Barcelona B to Manchester City, to analyse how he is evolved as a coach and figure out what the future could for the Spanish manager.

Barcelona B 2007-2008

Pep has a reputation of being a manager who can only succeed at big clubs, with world class players and hefty transfer budgets. While there is some truth to that now, it is often overlooked that Pep’s first job in management was in the Spanish fourth division.

At Barcelona B Pep won only one of his first three matches in charge and things, for a moment, looked ominous. However, Barcelona B kept faith in Pep’s way of playing and with Tito Vilanova as his assistant, the team subsequently won their Tercera División group and qualified for the 2008 Segunda División B playoffs, which the team won, thereby achieving promotion.

Barcelona 2008-2012

Major Honours: 2x UEFA Champions League (2008-09, 2010-11), 3x La Liga (2008-09, 2009-10, 2010-11), 2x Copa Del Rey (2009-10, 2011-12), 3x Supercopa (2009, 2010, 2011), 2x FIFA Club World Cup (2009, 2011), 2x UEFA Super Cup (2009, 2011)

Over a four-year period where Barcelona won 14 out of a possible 19 trophies, Pep’s Barcelona revolutionised the game of football. Fabio Capello said in ‘Take the ball, Pass the ball’, a documentary recounting Pep’s historic Barca team:

there have been three special eras in football history, first Cruyff at Ajax, then Sacchi AC Milan, a project that I continued. And then came Guardiola and he created something beautiful.

The birth of Lionel Messi as a false nine, a multi-faceted attacking/creating super-human, sparked four consecutive Ballon D’or wins (2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012) for him as under Pep’s tutelage he cemented himself as a candidate for greatest football of all time and started the eternal debate – Messi or Ronaldo?

The two UEFA Champions League final victories over Manchester United in 2009 and 2011 were things of beauty – the best European side of this century combining aesthetics with efficiency and results. The perfect marriage of coach and players. With a core of Messi, Xavi, Iniesta, Busquets, Puyol, Pigue, Alves and goalkeeper Valdes the team was constructed with arguably best players in their respective positions in the world at that time. Sir Alex Ferguson confessed after the 2011 final that:

no one has given us a hiding like that. It’s a great moment for them. They deserve it because they play the right way and enjoy their football.

The footballing world became obsessed with possession, pressing-based football and it’s no coincidence that the Spanish national team, centred around a core of Barcelona players, made their case for the greatest international side in history between 2008-2012 winning two-European cups and a FIFA World cup.

Bayern Munich 2013-2017

Major Honours: 3x Bundesliga (2013-14, 2014-15, 2015-16), 2x DFB Pokal (2013-14, 2015-16), 1x FIFA Club World Cup (2013), 1x UEFA Super Cup (2013)

After a year’s sabbatical in New York, Guardiola took his talents to Bavaria. It was not quite announced LeBron James Miami Heat style, with Bayern Munich’s board confirming Pep Guardiola’s arrival as manager midway through the 2012/2013 season. Under the then current coach, Jupp Heynecks, Bayern went on to win the treble having their best season as a team in history. No pressure then.

Marti Perneau’s book Pep Confidential, followed Guardiola throughout year one of his Bayern reign, giving you an inside investigative look into his ideologies as a manager tactically, philosophically, and psychologically.

A three-one win in Pep’s first season in the Champions League against Manchester City, was a revolutionary result, that showed the world his style could succeed without Lionel Messi spearheading the attack. Pep’s possession-based football was still the fundamental philosophy, but tactically Bayern would play multiple formation’s from 4-3-3, 4-2-4, 4-2-3-1, 3-3-1-1, 3-4-5, often using Philip Lahm as a pivot, with the full-backs pushed up and becoming midfielders; Ribery and Robben were the lethal weapons, hugging the touchline and then dribbling inside to finish off moves.

A ‘three-peat’ of Bundesliga titles, making him the first foreign coach to win Germany’s top flight three times, a host of records broken, including most points at the end of a season – 91 in 2012/2013; most won games in a season – 29 in 2012/2013 and 2013/2014; and most clean sheets in a single season – 21 in 2012/2013.

His Bayern side scored 254 goals in 102 league matches and the successful implementation of possession-attacking based playing style, helped Bayern create the pathway for the rest of the decade to dominate the Bundesliga, having won eight titles in a row.

Manchester City 2016-

Major Honours: 2x Premier League (2017-18, 2018-19), 1x FA Cup (2018-19), 3x EFL Cup (2017-18, 2018-19, 2019-20), 2x FA Community Shield (2018, 2019)

Four years in and yet Pep does not seem destined for the customary change of scenery. In Manchester he has found a club built in his image, right up to boardroom level, with Tixi Bergstein and Ferran Soriano having worked with Pep at Barcelona. City have built the side in the image of their coach – they are Guardiola FC.

Pep turned Manchester City into arguably the greatest English side in history, winning back to back Premier League titles in 2018 and 2019, the first time to do so since Sir Alex Ferguson, his side accumulating 198 points out of possible 228, finishing the 2017/2018 campaign with a record-breaking 100 points.

The player development of Raheem Sterling has been Pep’s most successful project individually, turning Sterling into a elite goal scorer, as he netted his first 20 goal Premier League season in 2019/2020.

Guradiola’s “I don’t teach tacklesrant in 2016/2017 after Jamie Vardy and Leicester City beat City 4-2, had all Pep’s critics bemused – ‘you don’t teach tackles? You are in England now Pep, none of that tiki-taka business here.

However, Pep has shown his willingness to adapt to the Premier League’s high intensity, focusing more on second balls and echoing some of his managerial rival Jurgen Klopp’s gegenpressing.  Collectively he has continued to believe in his mantra of possession-based football, high-defensive line, ball-playing midfielders and getting the best out of wide-forwards who become inverted forwards.

For now, Pep remains City’s manager and is tasked with winning his third Premier League title in four years, while the Champions League bogyman, something that has eluded Pep since 2011, is still his top priority, a shocking defeat to Lyon in the Champions League quarter-finals, a side who finished the 2019/2020 season 7th in Ligue 1, did little to shut down the idea that Guardiola is prone to tactically over-thinking and over playing the big occasion.

What next?

Whatever the future holds for Guardiola, you would think he will have his pick of which club he manages next. Another Premier League job now seems highly unlikely, a return to Barcelona has been rumoured,  but in vastly different circumstances, there are no generational La Masia academy players on the horizon and with the club in a state of disarray at board room level, would he risk tarnishing his legacy there?

A future role after management on the club’s board seems more likely. The Bundesliga is also presumably now off Pep’s bucket list. A job at Juventus has also been rumoured and could be quite a logical fit as the only top-four European league Guardiola has not managed in. A super-club who would back him financially and the chance for Guardiola to live in Italy and give the Juventus owners the chance to see the club play a high-octane brand of football they seem to be craving in order to reach the global allure of Barcelona and Real Madrid.

His legacy on the game as an influential coach who has changed modern football tactically is unquestioned. Even if Pep admitted himself in a press conference after shock 3-2 defeat to Norwich in September 2019, that he is aware of the twitter trolls ‘Fraudiola’ claims.

Those social media barbs aside, how many coaches could at least make the argument they managed the greatest European team of all time, the greatest La Liga team of all time and the greatest Premier League team of all time?

Author Details

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Sam Stobbart

I tend to focus my writing on big picture analysis, looking at iconic players, managers and teams. I will be predominantly writing about the Premier League and the Champions League, but follow closely all of Europe's top five leagues. I support Newcastle United, I know ... but it could be worse ... I could support Sunderland.

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