Man City’s extraordinary dominance is testament to the Pep Guardiola way

Pep Guardiola reacts during Man City’s victory against Leicester

The champions were officially dethroned 40 minutes before they kicked off. Manchester City’s win against Leicester meant Liverpool could not catch them and, impressive as their subsequent victory at Arsenal was, showed the scale of the turnaround since the reverse fixtures in September.

City finished 18 points behind Liverpool last season; they were six adrift of early-season pacesetters, albeit with a game in hand, after conceding five in a match for the first time in Pep Guardiola’s 686 games in management. Manchester City 2-5 Leicester: the most spectacular scoreline of City’s season proved the most significant. Leicester won the title in 2016 and, in a very different way, have played their part in the destination of the title this time.

City have played 44 matches since then and lost two. A defence breached five times in 52 minutes by Leicester has, on average, conceded once every 174 in the Premier League afterwards, just nine occasions in a run that has brought them 54 points from a possible 57. It is no coincidence that Ruben Dias joined two days after the September shellacking. The Portuguese has not just formed one outstanding partnership but two: his alliance with John Stones has been famously transformative for the Englishman and Aymeric Laporte has been demoted from the strongest side. Yet when Dias and Laporte are teamed, City have 12 wins from 15 with eight clean sheets; the latest owed something to an unflashy, expertly-executed block the summer signing made to divert a Youri Tielemans shot wide.

Dias has been a reassuring presence, his aura of indomitability enabling him to bring composure where there was chaos. Rewind six months and City’s minds were so scrambled they conceded three penalties against Leicester in September; there was something cathartic in the way Benjamin Mendy, one of the offenders then, scored the important opener at the King Power Stadium on Saturday.

Guardiola noted the time: 58 minutes. City broke the deadlock after 84 at Everton in the FA Cup. They have beaten Fulham, Liverpool and Aston Villa when the first goal came in the second half. “You have to be patient,” he said. “They are patient to make us impatient and this is a big, big mistake.” City erred against Leicester last time; they were caught on the counter-attack.

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“Today we were more calm, with more passes,” Guardiola reflected. “When the opposition don’t want to push you or press you… like in Everton, we won in 82, 83 minutes. Football is like this but we didn’t concede one shot on target at Goodison and that is what we need to do in these kind of games.” His teams are defined by possession, but City have had control defensively. “In that [5-2] game, we learned from winning 1-0,” Guardiola said, reflecting on the loss of an early lead. “We became nervous. We gave them the chance to run.”

The defensive revolution came courtesy of a signing. In attack, he found the answer within: within his midfield, really. “We had no striker in that game because Sergio and Gabriel were injured,” said Guardiola, harking back again and reflecting on the problems it caused. Both Sergio Aguero and Gabriel Jesus started in the rematch and the Brazilian scored, but neither figures in the first-choice team now. The Argentinian’s performance at Leicester underlined his decline; City have moved on even before he goes in the summer. Many of their wins feel triumphs of the false-nine system, of slick interchanging of positions from like-minded souls. With Aguero in the team and out of sorts, Saturday seemed more a case of individual inspiration: the individual being the peerless Kevin de Bruyne, who ended with neither a goal nor an assist but who was nevertheless outstanding.

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It is undeniable his virtuoso displays give City an inherent advantage; so does a squad of sufficient depth that Guardiola has the high-class options to habitually make five or six changes and still win. “When I rotate, I’m a genius when we win,” said the manager, critiquing his critics. “When we lose, people say ‘why rotate?’ but it’s unsustainable. If you don’t rotate you cannot compete in all competitions or be in the position we are right now.”

And, in the Premier League, it is a position of extraordinary dominance. It has been forged by buying and coaching, by resources and resourcefulness, by ideas and the ability to implement them. That, perhaps, is Guardiola’s City way.

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