So much has been made out in the media this season about how Guardiola is turning Manchester City into one of “his teams,” replicating the tactics he has used throughout his career with Barcelona and Bayern Munich. Until this past weekend, everything was going smoothly for City and Pep, pundits were already banking on the Citizens to win the league with ease come the spring, but now, there are some doubts.
What was evident this weekend was that City were uncomfortable with the pressing game that Tottenham played. Spurs would send the ball long towards Son, and immediately press Bravo or one of the City defenders on the ball, closing down all passing options forward. As a result, 32% of the action was in Manchester City’s final third, while only 26% occurred in the home side’s third. Even though City had more of the ball, recording 54% of the possession overall, it was mainly confined to behind the midfield line by Spurs, exposing the weaknesses of the City backline and Guardiola’s stubbornness in altering his game plan.
When it comes right down to it, Manchester City’s defense just isn’t up to snuff. In both the instances of Barcelona and Bayern Munich, Guardiola was gifted strong defensive options who had played together for some time to that point (Pique, Puyol, Dani Alves, Abidal/Lahm, Boateng, Martinez, Alaba). He had faith in the defenders and goalkeepers to work the ball out of the back, stick to his strategy, and most importantly, they intimidated the opposition.
Manchester City haven’t earned such fearful respect yet from opposition. The likes of Tottenham, Manchester United and Swansea in recent weeks haven’t been afraid to press the City defense because they don’t fear Stones, Kolorov or Otamendi spraying killer passes through the midfield to unlock the opposition. And this stubbornness from Guardiola in changing his style based on the resources he has at the Etihad Stadium is showing for all to see and exploit. Against Manchester United for example, City would have almost certainly had a clean sheet if it weren’t for Bravo continuously trying to play the ball out of the back rather than clearing the danger, something Spurs took advantage of on Sunday.
Thinking about all of this had me wondering, what if Pep’s qualities and managerial style isn’t meant to be forced on teams that don’t have the culture or resources to support it? Maybe instead, Pep is in this wonderful world of soccer to improve teams that already have the pieces together to achieve his ambitious concept of the perfection. That’s when it dawned on me, this is the time for Pep to move to Juventus, where all his dreams of handless goalkeepers and tiki-taka bliss can come true.
Now most of you will say that he has just moved to City and probably won’t leave anytime soon, and yes, I agree, but just consider the possibility and hear me out. Lets look at how the whole team would thrive under Guardiola.
Starting in the back, with Buffon, Pep would have arguably the best goalkeeper of all time, a man who although almost as old as Pep, has the cunning of a fox and commands his penalty area with the precision and authority of a military captain. He is also one of the best quick and short range distributors in European soccer, perfect for a Guardiola side.
The defense is where Guardiola will really start licking his lips. Juventus already play a back three, which was Pep’s favored formation while at Bayern as well. With Chiellini, Bonucci, Barzagli, Benatia, and Rugani, Juventus have the making of a solid present and future blockade, both with height and skill on the ball. In the Euros, Bonucci proved to all of Europe what a fantastic passer he is, and Benatia has already proved himself under Guardiola at Bayern. It all seems to fit here, and I’m sure it would be a welcome escape from the chaos of Otamendi and Stones. And one needs only to look to the wings for more encouragement, with Evra, Dani Alves, Lichsteiner, and Alex Sandro all fantastic options to play wide or follow Pep’s strategy of tucking inside to protect the center of the park.
Moving forward, in the midfield, Juventus haven’t missed Pogba at all, boasting a wealth of talent in the center of the park; Marchisio, Khedira, Pjanic, Lemina. At the head of the attack The Old Lady looks quite invigorated as well, with options like Higuain, Dybala, and Mandzukic. These players have the quality to play Pep’s tiki-taka style of possession play, but they also have the ability to change it up when needed and simply produce crosses for large targets like Higuain and Mandzukic in the middle, a valuable option that City lack.
Considering Juve’s position in Italy as well, there would be less pressure on Guardiola to concentrate on the domestic title, since Serie A has fallen a peg or two over the past five years, meaning Juventus seem to simply dominate in a similar manner to PSG in League 1 these days. This would allow Guardiola more focus on winning the Champions League, which would certainly align well with the aspirations of the club.
I’m not saying that this will happen, that Pep and the Bianconeri will grasp hands and skip off into the Turin sunset together. No, this probably won’t happen anytime soon, and if it does in the future, this may not apply to the same extent anymore, seeing as a lot of the Juve players are getting long in the tooth. What I am saying is that at this moment, the manager and the team seem like the perfect match for success, and that if Guardiola happened to find himself in Turin next season, I genuinely would favor Juventus to not only win Serie A, but also the Champions League.
As I watch City beginning to show signs of mortality on the pitch, and see weaknesses that will certainly be exploited further by Premier League teams, it seems more and more that Pep doesn’t fit in blue. I believe that sooner rather than later, the great tactician will be found out in England, and that it will be plain as day that he can’t work wonders without the right pieces. Just as a chess master is no wizard in checkers, Pep needs the right players in the right places to succeed, as he had in Barcelona and Munich. In order to survive in the Premier League, he will inevitably have to adapt his game, and if not… well there is always Serie A.