Thursday 05 September 2019, 07:56

Pep Guardiola: Defining match

  • Guardiola is a nominee for The Best along with Klopp and Pochettino

  • Manchester City won four trophies in 2018/19

  • We look back at City’s 2-1 win over Liverpool - the start of their Premier League comeback

Pep Guardiola and his Manchester City side began the season by winning the Community Shield, but the best was yet to come, with the Citizens kicking on to win a domestic treble: the Premier League, League Cup and FA Cup.

That impressive trophy haul and the football his team played in amassing it has led to the Spaniard being nominated for The Best FIFA Men’s Coach 2019 award.

There were many highlights in what was a historic season. But in the Premier, where City had to overtake a stellar Liverpool side to retain the title, there was one match that stood out from the rest: their 2-1 home win over the Reds in January, Liverpool’s only league defeat of the season.

Jurgen Klopp’s side had travelled to Manchester as unbeaten leaders and held a seven-point advantage over City, who lay third in the table, behind Mauricio Pochettino’s Tottenham Hotspur.

Sergio Aguero of Manchester City celebrates after scoring 

The tactical set-up

Guardiola stayed true to his footballing philosophy for this make-or-break clash and lined up with his trademark 4-3-3 formation, with Ederson between the posts and Danilo, John Stones, Vincent Kompany and Aymeric Laporte forming the back four. The French central defender was asked to fill in at left-back following injuries to Benjamin Mendy and Fabian Delph.

In midfield, Fernandinho played the holding role, flanked by the two Silvas, Bernardo and David. Entrusted with attacking duties along with the Spain international, the Portuguese was also required to drop back to help out in defence and bring the ball out, at which times the formation reverted to a 4-2-3-1.

Forming the front three were Raheem Sterling and Leroy Sane on the flanks and Sergio Aguero in the striker’s role.

Sergio Aguero of Manchester City celebrates after scoring

The outcome

The season’s first league meeting between the sides was a cagey 0-0 draw and this high-stakes return fixture began in similar fashion, with play mostly confined to the midfield. While Guardiola’s men slowly began to dominate possession, they found it hard to create openings with their customary élan.

Fernandinho and Bernardo Silva were crucial to City’s gameplan. The Brazilian pressed hard and won ball after ball in the midfield, while Silva was everywhere. In racking up 13.7 km during the game, he won possession ten times, had a pass success rate of 83 per cent and caused the visitors problems with his movement up front and ability to find space between the lines. On top of all that the Portugal international provided the assist that allowed Aguero to give City a 1-0 half-time lead.

Having almost gone ahead themselves when Sadio Mane hit the post and Stones cleared the ball from the line, Liverpool pulled level with a Roberto Firmino header after the restart, only for Sane to make it 2-1 from a Sterling pass at the end of a typically speedy transition.

In saving 'match point', City moved into second place, just four points behind the Reds, and began the revival that would take them to the title.

The reaction

“It was a final for us because if we’d lost, it would have been all but over. But we’ve won and we’re still in it. The race for the Premier League has tightened up again and we’ll see what happens.

“Bernardo Silva did it all today. He created things, helped out in defence, and won all the individual duels. He’s not the tallest but he showed once again that it’s being good that counts.”

Pep Guardiola reacts to his side’s win