MARTIN KEOWN: Manchester City are football's Harlem Globetrotters

KEOWN TALKS TACTICS: Manchester City have become football’s Harlem Globetrotters… Pep Guardiola has flooded his midfield to destroy teams – the way they play is poetry in motion

  • Pep Guardiola’s City are like Harlem Globetrotters – outstanding in all positions
  • The team have played scintillating football with players packing the midfied 
  • The Spaniard is up there with Sir Alex Ferguson as football’s ultimate leader 
  • We should be in for a cracker in this weekend’s dress rehearsal against Chelsea 

Pep Guardiola has an unparalleled desire to win. Some people said his philosophy wouldn’t work in the Premier League after his Manchester City side finished third in his first season — now he’s set to collect his third title.

He spent last season’s lockdown 25 points behind Liverpool and hearing how his time at City could be up. Now he’s 26 points ahead of Jurgen Klopp’s side and contracted until 2023.

He was accused of overthinking things after crashing out of the Champions League to Lyon last season. Now, thanks to his innovation, he’s in this year’s final and one win from fulfilling his destiny for City.

Pep Guardiola is closing in on fulfilling his Manchester City destiny in the Champions League

The Spaniard is up there with Sir Alex Ferguson when I think of the sport’s ultimate leaders

When I think of football’s ultimate leaders, Guardiola is up there alongside Sir Alex Ferguson.

He has a special thirst for success and injects his players with a winning DNA. After a 1-1 home draw with West Bromwich in December, and with City sixth in the Premier League table, Guardiola hit the reset button.

He has since admitted he told his staff, ‘I don’t like the team. I don’t like the way we play. I don’t recognise my team’. He felt his players were running too much, not passing enough, and weren’t controlling games the way he wanted.

So City went back to the future, reverting to his tiki-taka style from the Barcelona era. Guardiola had slipped away from his philosophy of always controlling the middle of the pitch.

He addressed that by flooding players into that midfield area, with the false nine dropping deep and an inverted full back who moves inside. That approach left City with five players who could mount attacks from that area. It worked, with City winning 15 straight League games after that West Brom draw.

Guardiola hit the reset button after draw with West Brom and it led to 15 straight league wins

They keep the ball on the carpet and move up and down the pitch as a group, hoovering up possession and destroying teams with defence- splitting passes.

Their second goal against Paris Saint- Germain in midweek was like poetry in motion, the way Kevin De Bruyne and Phil Foden exchanged passes before the England man found Riyad Mahrez to finish.

It would have been easy for Foden to lift the ball in the air for Mahrez but he didn’t, because even the best players can struggle to control an airborne cross.

From back to front, this is an outstanding team. Goalkeeper Ederson is excellent at playing out and he might also be the best long passer in the team.

Right back Kyle Walker is playing his best football and is using his electrifying pace in the right way. At left back, Guardiola can use Joao Cancelo if he wants an extra player to move into midfield, or Oleksandr Zinchenko if he wants more width — like he did against PSG.

Ruben Dias is a superb leader at the back and whoever partners him benefits hugely from that

City are football’s Harlem Globetrotters with Ilkay Gundogan, Kevin De Bruyne and Phil Foden

Ruben Dias organises the defence brilliantly and whoever is alongside him, whether it’s John Stones or Aymeric Laporte, looks better for it.

Rodri is an outstanding protector in midfield but Guardiola was able to rely on the evergreen Fernandinho in City’s biggest game of the season, against PSG.

Bernardo Silva worked like a marathon runner, while Ilkay Gundogan, De Bruyne and Foden were like the football equivalent of basketball’s Harlem Globetrotters. Not only did Mahrez score three of City’s four goals over the two legs, he put in a defensive shift as well. There are no passengers in this team.

Saturday’s opponents Chelsea have already denied City their chance of a Quadruple by beating them in the FA Cup semi-final last month. City lost 1-0 that day, after having 24 hours less to prepare and with Guardiola making eight changes.

It is a dress rehearsal for the Champions League final but with huge implications in the Premier League. City want to wrap up the title at home. But Chelsea want to win to keep their push for a top-four place on track. We might be in for a cracker.

Dress rehearsal for Champions League final against Chelsea this weekend should be a cracker

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