If you ask or tell Pep Guardiola how he has changed English football, the Manchester City manager will generally bridle at the suggestion.
“I am not here to change English football,” he told Guardian a few months after his arrival in 2016.
“I am not here to change the Premier League. But my team is going to play the way I believe in.”
In general, he has not deviated from this mantra, but evidence to the contrary is everywhere.
Guardiola’s high-possession, high-pressing style of fluid positional play has been seen City dominate the English game in a manner never seen before.
Ederson is a goalkeeper whose most valuable attribute is his ability with his feet, Joao Cancelo is a full-back who does a lot of his best attacking work from an attacking central midfield position and both thrive in an XI that scores goals by the bucketload despite not having an orthodox striker.
In the example above, we see the benefits of a goalkeeper and defender in terms of what they add to City’s attack, but there is also a solid foundation that – numerically at least – has plenty in common with England’s previous best teams.
At his press conference to preview Wednesday’s Premier League match against Brentford, Guardiola was slightly mischievously asked if he was a “defensive manager” because on eight of the nine times he has won domestic titles with Barcelona, Bayern Munich and City he has presided over the league’s most miserly backline.
“In those terms, yeah,” he chuckled, no doubt aware of how this might sound in the context of some of the “boring City” chat that was fueled by an efficient 1-0 win over Thomas Frank’s side in December.
“We defend with the ball,” Pep continued, going on to explain how – like every other facet of City’s game – the defense relies on everyone in the team cherishing possession.
“We believe that not because you have a lot of players in your box are you going to defend well.
“You have to defend well in that period [when the ball is in your penalty area] but always I believe that when the opponent has the ball far away from goal [or] you have the ball that is the best way to defend.
“To concede a goal, the opponent has to have the ball and the less of the ball they have the more chance we have to make a clean sheet and be solid.”
Controlling counter-attacks is a key part of this approach and was a relative weakness for City in the 2019/20 season as they surrendered their Premier League crown to Liverpool.
But Rodri’s growth into his role as the midfield pivot, the addition of the no-nonsense Ruben Dias at the back and exemplary pressing from the likes of Gabriel Jesus and Phil Foden means every department of the team has played a part in this improvement.
As Guardiola was keen to point out, such an approach is no longer exclusive to City.
Pep has frequently praised the possession-oriented approach of Graham Potter’s Brighton, while he paid tribute to the forward-thinking tactics of Fulham and their coach Marco Silva after Saturday’s FA Cup tie at the Etihad Stadium.
Basing everything around the ball is no longer simply a luxury for elite clubs such as City. Teams further down the pyramid playing to similar principles and succeeding might be Guardiola’s proudest legacy in England.
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“If you look now at the best teams in the Premier League right now it is because most of them are offensive. They have the ball a high percent,” he said.
“And the top of the league in the Championship, Fulham, is the team that has the most time with the ball.
“I am very pleased for that – be offensive but at the same time be solid, conceding few goals.”
When he arrived in England, Guardiola’s playing style looked like the antithesis of a traditionally solid defensive setup synonymous with Arsenal’s 1990s back four and other great teams.
Now it increasingly appears to be the best route to wealth in a land that has always been keen to deal in the value of clean sheets.
Do you think of Pep Guardiola as a defensive coach? Follow City Is Ours editor Dom Farrell on Twitter to get involved in the discussion and give us your thoughts in the comments section below.