Peak Pep Guardiola: Why Manchester City play better without a striker

Manchester City
(Image credit: PA Images)

Perhaps peak Pep came in 2010/11. Barcelona went 31 games undefeated in La Liga. They beat Jose Mourinho’s Real Madrid 5-0 at the Nou Camp, then eliminated them from the Champions League and then produced one of the great European Cup final performances. Manchester United were thrashed 3-1 in a game that was far more emphatic than the scoreline. Lionel Messi’s goal was his 53rd of the season. He was one of seven players under 5ft 10in to start for Guardiola for Wembley. The undersized had reshaped football.

But maybe peak Pep is happening now. Pep Guardiola could win Manchester City’s first Champions League. Their fifth Premier League, and his third, could be sealed this weekend. They are not better than the Barcelona team of a decade ago – perhaps no side ever has been – and they do not have a Messi, but City’s domestic, and potential European, triumph has come from going fuller Pep than ever before.

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Richard Jolly

Richard Jolly also writes for the National, the Guardian, the Observer, the Straits Times, the Independent, Sporting Life, Football 365 and the Blizzard. He has written for the FourFourTwo website since 2018 and for the magazine in the 1990s and the 2020s, but not in between. He has covered 1500+ games and remembers a disturbing number of the 0-0 draws.