Channel your inner tactical genius by emulating Pep Guardiola’s tactical masterclass in Football Manager 2023. Experience the Pep Guardiola Man City tactics for 2022-2023 season in Football Manager 2023 with Pep’s new 3-2-4-1 formation in your tactics repository.
Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City is currently on the road to win a remarkable Premier League hat-trick – a rare feat only their city rivals Manchester United have managed two times under sir Alex Ferguson, as well as being in position to win Manchester City’s second treble in the club’s history.
After four Premier League titles, four EFL Cups and an FA Cup trophy, Pep Guardiola has made Man city into a dominating force of English football.
The success Manchester City has had under Pep Guardiola can only be tributed to the tactical innovations Pep Guardiola has came up with since moving to England.
With positional play as the foundation for his possession-oriented Tiki-Taka tactical style, Pep Guardiola has used positioning, possession and pressing as tools to maintain control and dominate the opposition.
With Pep Guardiola’s tactical masterclass showcased in the Premier League 2022-23, it’s finally time for me to take a closer look at Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City tactics and how I have recreated Pep’s new 3-2-4-1 formation and his 4-3-3 tactic in Football Manager 2023.
But at first, let’s take a closer look at Pep Guardiola Man City Tactics for 2022/23 season by providing you with a tactical analysis of Pep Guardiola’s new 3-2-4-1 tactic!
In the last chapters we will look at how to recreate Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City tactics in Football Manager 2023 and how I have interpreted his latest innovation, the 3-2-4-1 formation in FM23. As always, you’ll be able to download the tactics and test them out in your own Football Manager save, by downloading the Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City tactics 22/23 at the end of this article.
- Related Articles
- The Stones Role
- The Advantages of a Box Midfield
- The role of the Wingers
- Against the low block
- The Duties of the Attacking Midfielders in Manchester City’s 3-2-4-1 System
- Manchester City’s defensive structures
- Hybrid Pressing
- Man City’s 4-2-4 High Pressing Structure
- The result of Man City’s counter-pressing
- Team Instructions – In Possession
- The Classic Man City 3-2-4-1 Tactic
- Player roles of Pep’s Classic 3-2-4-1 Tactic
- The 3-2-2-3 Box Midfield
- Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City 4-3-3 Tactic
Pep Guardiola: The Master of Reinvention
Pep Guardiola is the master of reinvention. At Barcelona, at Bayern Münich and now at Manchester City, he has revolutionized player roles that’s been used in the past and modernized it to today, catching both opposite managers and opposing players off guard by coming up with a new tactical innovation that helps his team to dominate the match in the way he sees fit.
Manchester City’s tactics under Pep Guardiola has become more and more flexible. From using mainly the 4-3-3 at Barcelona, the tactical system used at Manchester City changes swiftly from a back four to a back three in and out of possession, and from games to games. So far this season Pep Guardiola six different tactical formations and shapes from inverting the pyramid to the traditional 4-4-2.
The Manchester City tactics under Pep Guardiola can all be described as the football meta as the tactical genius of Pep Guardiola revives and innovates the game into a winning formula.
From 4-3-3 to 2-3-5, Pep Guardiola has changed football tactics in the 20th century in rapid steps by revolutionizing the way his teams play, season by season. Either to counter specific strengths of weaknesses of a single opponent, or to get the best out of his players, he has evolved by introducing something brand new to his tactics or revamped what’s been working before. For instance, by making small adaptions to how he uses his wingers and 8 and 10th’s to get the best out of the powerful striker, Erling Haaland, or how he uses his fullbacks and defensive midfielders.
His latest innovation, the new 3-2-4-1 tactics, that we hereby will look to recreate in Football Manager 2023, has seen Man City taking a huge step forward to claim both the UEFA Champions League and the Premier League trophy in the 2022/23 season.
Tactical Analysis of Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City Tactics 22/23
The 3-2-4-1 Formation
At the time of writing, Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City has used a 3-2-4-1 in the last 8 matches (approximately). The result is 23 goals and only 6 conceded with the system and trashing Liverpool and Southampton 4-1, as well as winning 3-0 against Bayern Münich in the first leg of UEFA CL quarterfinals. The first time he used it he managed to trash RB Leipzig 7-0!
The shift from a 4-1 shape at the back with a single pivot, to a double pivot in front of a back three – has not gone unnoticed! Especially, due to the tactical surprise of putting John Stones, a centre back, as one of two holding midfielders!
The move from 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1 that Pep Guardiola has traditionally used in the past seasons to a more unorthodox 3-2-5 formation in possession caught the attention of many pundits, including me!
In the early years of Pep Guardiola’s manager career, he used to convert defensive midfielders into centre backs to ensure he had players adept at passing the ball – helping the team to build out from the back.
Now the scenario is different.
With more focus on transitions and the speed of attacking transition, Pep Guardiola has taken his aggressive way of defending one step further by ensuring the team is able to defend against counter-attacks with the correct positioning of his players by moving one of the defenders higher up the pitch.
In today’s football, the speed of transition from defensive and attacking organization is more important than ever! With minimal requirement of time to change the shape in and out of possession, Pep Guardiola and other managers have tried to find the ideal solution to maintain numerical superiority in the middle of the pitch whilst also defending all zones and channels of the football pitch.
Manchester City’s new 3-2-4-1 tactic helps to do just that!
Rather than keeping two centre backs at the back to free up the wingbacks to move forward into the final third, only Rúben Dias holds position at the back with Aké and Akanji playing almost like traditional fullbacks.
The shape looks in many ways much similar to Ajax’s Total Football system and the Johan Cruyff’s 3-4-3 formation, at least the shape at the back. Especially, in terms of how Ajax used Ruud Krol and Suurbier as fullbacks, and one player (Vasovic or Hulshoff) pushing up in the midfield, just like a libero – something that is somehow similar to the Stones role within Pep Guardiola’s new Manchester City 3-2-4-1 tactics!
In practice, the team defends with four defenders, but when the team is in possession, Ruben Dias is one on one with the opposing forward. As Ruben Dias remains central to protect that area of the pitch, Rodri hold his position in front of the wide back three, with Stones close connected to him.
To the left of Rodri, Ilkay Gündogan kept himself to the left half space with Kevin de Bruyne out wide in the right half space, while Haaland was up front as a pressing forward who dropped deep in the build-up.
In reality, Manchester City’s 3-2-4-1 system looked like this:
The position of these three midfielders is much similar to how the team would operate in a 4-3-3 formation with one runner, one playmaker and one holding midfielder.
The only difference in this instance was the role of John Stones.
The Stones Role
The role of John Stones is quite interesting and rather new within this remarkable 3-2-5 formation. As mentioned earlier, it has its similarities to how the libero was used within Ajax’s Total Football in the 70s.
When the team is in possession of the ball, John Stones and Rodri operated in the middle of the pitch by staying closely together. In this structure, Rodri remained largely in the centre of the park but could also move into the left half space, meanwhile John Stones were responsible for holding position in the right half space.
The position of the double pivot saw the two defensive midfielders of Manchester City meant the team could create a defensive block that’s hard to penetrate through the middle as well as creating numerical superiority in the center of the park.
When the team was in possession, either Rodri or Stones would advance forward by holding position just outside the penalty box while the other covered the space in front of the centre backs.
Most often, it was Rodri who had the licence to do his defensive covering duty higher up the pitch, something we saw at times in the Bayern Münich home affair when he close down players high up the pitch when the team had just lost possession. Other times, he covered the space behind the two number eights meanwhile Stones acted like a false centre back.
This is how Rodri scored his screamer in the first leg of UEFA Champions League quarter finals against Bayern Münich.
The rotation of the two defensive midfielders made the team very fluid and gave another dimension to the team both in and out of possession.
However, when the opposition had possession of the ball, and the team needed to transition into the defensive phase, John Stones moved back into defence to form a traditional four at the back defence.
This is something we saw over and over again against Bayern Münich, with the team defending in a traditional 4-1-4-1 or 4-4-2 and attacking in a 3-2-5.
What John Stones brings to the team in possession?
The role of John Stones when the team is in possession of the ball is something we need to look at as well.
The role of Stones in possession was crucial to creating the ideal passing lanes and triangles.
When Dias had the ball, John Stones provided an additional (fourth) passing option, and a way for Man City to build out from the back with less risk. If Bayern Münich wanted possession, they would have to move players forward, otherwise it would be 5 vs 4 in the build up.
When building up play through the middle third, John Stones, as said earlier, dropped between the lines of the opposing team’s attacking midfield and defensive midfield line. From here, he could link up play with Akanji or Rodri by providing an extra passing option to advance play forward.
The positioning of Stones saw him connect with Kevin de Bruyne in a manner that enabled him to make a short but accurate pass towards forward. If he was closed down, he could play the ball back to Akanji, who moved slightly forward and was able to receive the ball beyond the opposition winger as he went towards Stones to close him down.
If under pressure, Stones could also make counter-attacking passes towards the opposing wing – creating those turnovers that helps to destabilize the oppositions defensive block.
Despite a pass completion ratio of 93% and averaging 75.8 touches per game the number of long ball passes per game, the number of counter-attacking passes and switches of play from Stones was far fewer than Rodri (5.3 long balls per game) who has made 2.9 long balls per game so far.
Regardless, it describes how important Stones were both as an opportunity to retain possession and maintain control in the build-up, as well as switching play and advance ball quickly into the final third – to players with the skills of opening up the oppositions defensive block – like Kevin de Bruyne or Bernardo Silva.
From Inverted Wingbacks to ‘Libero’
Asking one of the centre back’s to push forward and not using any wingbacks who overlaps on the flanks is ‘completely new’ to Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City tactics, at least from my perspective.
The movement of a player, in this instance John Stones a centre back, from defence into midfield in the transition from defensive to attacking phase isn’t uncommon at all. For the last two seasons, Pep Guardiola and scholars of the positional play, has used to let one of the fullbacks invert into a second holding midfielder when the team is building up play. Fernandinho has also played as a false centre-back, just like Stones.
The tactical trend of using an inverted wing-back, or two, in their system has been seen at;
- Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal with Oleksandr Zinchenko and Ben White in that role
- Xavi’s Barcelona of 2021-22 season as Daniel Alves acted like an inverted wingback
- Erik ten Hag’s Ajax used either Danny Blind or Nasraoui Mazraoui on one of the flanks
How Pep Guardiola used Joao Cancelo and Kyle Walker often led the team using a 2-3-5 shape in possession. And, in 2021 he would even look to use a 3-1-3-3 shape with Cancelo inverting into a third midfielder and pushing further forward than in his role in the 2-3-5 system where he moved in the left half space next to Rodri.
The 3-1-3-3 shape has many similarities to Johan Cruyff’s 3-4-3 formation with Rodri holding position in front of the back three and de Bruyne playing behind the front three.
So why doesn’t Pep Guardiola keeps using a 4-3-3 with an inverted wingback on one of the flanks? Or two, for that matter to keep using his 2-3-2-3 shape anymore?
If he wanted a 3-2-5 shape in possession and a double pivot, he could be asking his right back to invert, as in the past.
However, the answer could probably be due to how vulnerable a position switch between two players leaves the team in defensive transition, especially when players moves from one channel to the next.
One of the weaknesses when a player moves out of their designated defensive positioning is the vulnerable space it leaves. For instance, if Oleksandr Zinchenko inverts into midfield from his left back position, it creates a space down the left flank for the opponents to counter in, if the team isn’t able to slow down the speed of transition, for instance by closing down the ball carrier with counter-pressing, or block passing options.
The same applies for Man City’s right flank.
If John Stones, or any other player should invert back and forth from wide channel to right half space, the player has to travel for a longer distance, leaving the space on the right more vulnerable, meaning the right centre back has to cover for his movement.
At the same time, when players switch positions and zones, the responsibilities of marking, or having control of a particular player in and out of possession must be efficiently passed on. It requires more of the players, their ability to keep tabs of the ball, the opposing opponent and areas to defend.
This moment of chaos in the defensive organization can effectively be taken advantage of by attacking players of the opposition team with opposite movements that makes one of the players in doubt of who has control of whom, and where he needs to go.
It means that the player who inverts must recover quickly into his defensive positioning as the time spent getting the players to move in and out from that 3-2-5 attacking shape to the defensive 4-4-2 shape is crucial. Any small hesitations or doubts regarding which player to track, and the area on right back position is open to be attacked in.
Instead, the movement of Stones from centre back to midfield, requires less of the players awareness when the play is transitioning from attack to defence. He can simply take a few steps back in the same channel he’s in rather than move wide at the same time as Akanji moves from the half space channel towards the center.
A more structured and organized shape that gives the players more control of which zones they are responsible for and less distance to move back in a defensive block.
The Box Midfield
The innovation from Pep Guardiola to ask one of the centre backs to push out of the defensive line in possession gives a new dimension to the Manchester City tactics by creating a box midfield.
The position of the Stones and Rodri in the double pivot created a box midfield with Ilkay Gündogan and Kevin de Bruyne. However, the box midfield was much more asymmetric than my illustrations.
In some matches, the average positioning of the midfielders could easily look like the midfielders where split into two halves of triangles, where Gündogan on the left half space created a triangle with Grealish and Aké, meanwhile Kevin de Bruyne was closely linked to Silva and Haaland.
Something that made the average position of Man City seem like an asymmetric 4-3-3 formation with three players moved higher up on the right flank, than the left. At least, against Bayern Münich.
Anyway, average position aside, the positioning of two holding midfielders in front of two number eights gave us a 3-2-2-3 / 3-2-5 formation in possession.
As talked about in the evolution of Tiki-Taka, the box midfield was first present in the W-M formation utilized by Herbert Chapman at Arsenal in the 1930s.
Now, the 3-2-2-3 shape is back in a more modern variant.
With two holding midfielders in front of a back three, it enables the team to defend against counter-attacks by protecting the channels perfectly, and essentially maintain control both in and out of possession.
The Advantages of a Box Midfield
The movement of Stones into midfield (when the team is in possession) gives the team a number of advantages outside simply covering for breaks.
1. More Triangles & Passing Options
On the one hand it helps to create as many passing options for the player with the ball.
Similar to the 2-3-2-3 shape that I prefer within my Tiki-Taka tactic, the 3-2-2-3 formation provides multiple triangles and diamonds. As always in a possession-oriented system, it’s a matter of ensuring each player has at least two passing options on the ball.
One of the central attacking midfielders will become an extra man depending on whom the opposing defensive midfielder marks. A similar situation happens if the opposition plays with a 4-2-3-1 system. Then, one of the two defensive midfielders will be free of man-marking. And, even if the opposition tries to man-mark the two double pivots, one of the two wide centre-backs will become an extra man.
Against a 4-3-3 formation, the box midfield creates a numerical superiority in the middle – forcing one of the wingers to tuck inside to man mark or press John Stones with the ball. As the winger moves inside to cover the passing lane towards Stones, it opens up a passing lane from Akanji towards Bernardo Silva or Kevin de Bruyne on the right flank.
This use of a box midfield where wingers stay high and wide creates more space in the middle. In fact, it opens up passing lanes and more opportunities to advance play.
What’s always apparent in Manchester City’s play under Pep Guardiola is the focus on creating as many attacking triangles as possible.
At the same time, the two central midfielders in a 2-3-5 / 3-2-5 shape enables the team to progress play via either Rodri, Stones, or an inverted wingback (for those past systems).
Regardless of whom is in the central, they are able to receive the ball in between the lines and create 3vs1 scenarios that helps to maintain control in possession.
Earlier we’ve talked about the numerical superiority at the back, but it’s not only in the build-up Manchester City had numerical superiority. With a front five, that comes from the movement of the two number eights between the channels, it looked to outnumber opposition’s back four.
In these scenarios the passing triangle enabled the team to break through the opposition lines as movements and quick short passes created gaps in the opposition’s defensive structure if they pushed out to close down the ball carrier.
These passing triangles of the box midfielder was aided by the wingers instructions to pin the opposition fullback and ensure there were space in the middle to progress play.
2. Overloads by movements
On the other, it gives the freedom for the two central midfielders to push forward to support the three forwards in the final third with frequent runs from deep. Third man runs is something we’ve seen often from Manchester City with Ilkay Gündogan making smart movements behind the opposing defensive line, or Kevin de Bruyne making runs both with and without the ball behind Haaland, who drops deep like a deep-lying forward or false 9.
However, how the two central midfielders supported the front three was slightly different from match to match and on an event basis. Sometimes, Ilkay Gündogan could stay rather deep, almost like an advanced playmaker who looked to created triangles with Grealish and Rodri, meanwhile Kevin de Bruyne looked to overload on the right flank by staying close to Haaland and Bernardo Silva.
Other times, Kevin de Bruyne would roam between the lines and give Gündogan the licence to make penetrating third man runs from deep. If de Bruyne received the ball he would have multiple options.
He could look to play a through ball to Haaland, retain possession by setting up Bernardo Silva for a one-two, or make one of his well known crosses from outside the corner of the 16 yard area towards the opposite flank.
In reality, the change from how Pep Guardiola used inside forwards at Barcelona to how the wingers and fullbacks operated in Pep Guardiola’s new 3-2-4-1 Manchester City tactics, meant that most of the runs from deep had to come from the central attacking midfielders.
The necessity of these third man runs in Pep Guardiola’s variant of utilizing positional play at Manchester City is perfectly elaborated by current Barcelona manager, Xavi:
“The third man is impossible to defend, impossible… Imagine Pique wanting to play with me, but I’m marked, I have a defender on me, a very aggressive guy. Well, it is clear that Pique can not pass to me. If I move away, I’ll take the marker with me. Then, Messi goes down and becomes the second man.
Pique is the 1st, Messi the 2nd and I the 3rd, I have to be very alert, right?! Pique then plays with the 2nd man Messi, who returns it, and at that moment I’m an option. I’m now free of my marker who has moves to defend closer to the ball. Now I’m totally unmarked and if Pique passes to me we have achieved superiority.
This is indefensible, it’s the Dutch school, it’s Cruyff. It’s an evolution of the Dutch triangles. […] To look for the third man is, for example, that the central players have the ball and one if them is always open because you always have one player more than opposing strikers. We seek superiority in any area of the field. You make a three against two, you win and you have the third man. We advance positions up the field”.Xavi Hernandez, Spielverlagerung.com 22.03.2022
3. Better Attacking Structure = Better Defensive Structure
With the movement of the two number eights pushed up on either side of the forward, it creates a front five that covers the width of the pitch perfectly. The attacking structure pins back the opposition team to that regard one of the wingers must drop deep in a settled block to protect against 2vs1 scenarios on the side play is in, especially if facing a back four.
The attacking structure of five forwards versus four defenders results in a free man on the pitch which helps to retain possession or advance play into the final third. It forces the opposition team to behave more compact, opening up the space for the wingers who got the highest qualities in one-on-one situations.
But the real benefit of the attacking structure is the increased probability of regaining possession if it’s lost. With so many players around the ball zone, the attacking structure of 2+3 can let the team counter-press more effectively if the ball is lost high up the pitch.
The attacking players can make more effort trying to close down and regain possession high up the field as soon as the ball is lost, knowing that they have great defensive cover behind them with two defensive midfielders protecting the center and two narrow fullbacks protecting the half space channels.
One of the biggest advantages with a system using three narrow defenders (one centre back and two narrow fullbacks) coupled with a double pivot in front is not only the flexibility the team has to get an extra man in defence and midfield when in or out of possession but also the ability to defend the box more comfortably by congesting the area in front of the penalty box (opponent’s zone 14) with a box midfield, as the team defends in a 4-4-2 shape with Rodri and Gündogan holding the line and wingers tucking inside.
How Manchester City looks to Build-Up play?
Like any possession-oriented teams, Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City favors to play out from the back with a patient build-up by working the ball in intricate passing patterns. However, how they build up play from the back depends on the opposition’s line of engagement and pressing intensity. Lately, they have used anything from 3+2 to 4+2 when building out from the back.
When Ederson, a goalkeeper with great distribution skills got the ball, Dias looks to position himself inside the penalty box for a short option. In these situations, Ake will move wide while Akanji will offer a passing options on the edge of the penalty area on the right flank.
The third passing option for Ederson to play out from the back with a short pass comes from Rodri dropping deep between the fullbacks – creating a diamond shape with Dias, Akanji and Ake.
This will normally create a 4vs3 when playing out from the back.
Once the ball goes to one of the fullbacks, the movement of Stones into midfield opens up space to progress the ball down the wings. As he moves towards the center of the pitch, it may attract the attention of the winger. If he follows Stones, a passing lane is open to progress the ball forward along the flanks, or onto Akanji who stays wide of Dias and beyond the opposing winger.
What often happens when Ake or Akanji receives the ball is the immediate initiative to make progressive passes towards either Grealish on left wing or Silva/Mahrez on the right wing. Against Bayern Münich it was actually Kevin de Bruyne who received the most progressive passes, whilst against Liverpool, it was Mahrez who received the most progressive passes – both playing on the right wing at the time.
The fullbacks also got the option to retain possession by playing it onto Rodri who remains central – as the main hub of the passing wheel. So far this season, Rodri has made 87,4 passes per game at a 91.3% pass completion ratio according to Whoscored. He also makes the most of his passes in the middle third of the pitch, something that tells us how Man city uses him in the build-up between playing out from the back and until the ball reaches the final third.
How Manchester City builds up depends on the opposition’s press and how many players they use in the first line of defence.
With a player like Erling Haaland’s abilities to hold up the ball and play with the back against the goal, more opportunities for Ederson and the defenders opens up when facing a high press.
Against the high press, Manchester City has a number of alternatives to progress the ball.
One opportunity is to ask the wide center-backs to drop deeper with Stones and Rodri coming deep to receive the ball as well. The player’s doesn’t have to travel far before a 3-1 shape becomes a 4-2 shape when playing out from the back.
Secondly, is Ederson’s abilities to kick the ball long. His long kicks can be used now or then as a counter-attacking move. When he does, he often looks to kick the ball over the opposition’s high press and over the top of the midfield towards Erling Haaland who is highly press-resistant and great in one-on-one situations, either by holding up the ball by using his body strength or first touch to get control of the ball before passing it off or turning with it.
Regardless of the opportunity to distribute the ball long to left flank, Manchester City under Pep Guardiola favors to distribute the ball short to either the centre backs or the fullbacks – giving us the patience build-up that tries to draw the opposition forward and create spaces between the lines to advance the ball forward with quick short passes.
What we often see is that Manchester City prefers to focus play down one of the flanks. Most often, Pep Guardiola instructs his players to look towards Jack Grealish when building out from the back, and to enable the team to enter the final third..
The positioning of the wide center backs enables the team to progress the ball down the flank as their positioning by staying wide opens up clear passing lanes in the wide channels, for instance to one of the inverted wingers.
How Manchester City Enters The Final Third? Attacking Spaces by Movements
The role of the Wingers
As we recall, at Barcelona, Pep Guardiola would ask his wingers to make inverted runs in and between the channels to receive the ball behind the opposing defensive line rather than receiving it close to the byline and relying on movements from other players instead.
But at Manchester City, the scenario is slightly different.
To create appropriate depth for ball circulation on the field, the wingers have an important task of isolating the opposing fullbacks by staying high and wide. By holding position in the build up and staying wide – close to the byline, they look to stretch the opposition team and create more space in the middle for Haaland, Gündogan and de Bruyne to receive the ball.
The role of the wingers in the Man City system could be compared of the task Robben and Ribery had at Bayern Munich.
The primary objective with using inverted wingers at Manchester City by Pep Guardiola is to stretch the opposition back line by creating the width, and thereby stretch the opposition defence.
Depending on which flank the ball is on, the winger on opposite flank will stay wide to attract his marker, or at least try to direct the attention onto him, so the task for the defender becomes more uncomfortable.
The positioning of the wingers aims at creating space in the center for Gündogan and de Bruyne to move between the channels – in the vertical space between the fullback and centre back. Basically, the idea is to set up these two players in the half space channels for them to receive the ball and either feed the striker, or come to goalscoring opportunities by taking a shot themselves.
As the team look to free up the two central attacking midfielders in the half space channels, the hope is that the opposing defensive midfielders will be dragged towards them. This creates a passing lane in the middle and basically more space in zone 14 for the striker to drop into and receive the ball. It may even make the opposition so ball-oriented that the striker can move behind the marker’s back to the opposite flank of where play is on, and attack the area behind the opposition defensive line by a clever movement something Haaland is so brilliant at!
Apart from the objective of creating width and draw the opposition on to them, the wingers look to isolate the opposing fullback in a one-on-one situation where they have qualitative superiority, they got multiple opportunities to cause havoc to the opposition’s defensive organization.
When carrying the ball, the wingers would use cut inside dribbling their way towards the middle of the pitch where they are able to combine better with their teammates. When cutting inside, it aims to destabilize the defensive block as players are slightly dragged out of position. One player has to follow the run, right?!
When the opposing marker comes out to close down the player on the ball, it leaves a gap behind him that the central midfielders and the striker can run into. At the same time, these dribbles gives teammates the time to make purposeful movements into channels.
Wingers in possession
With the qualities of Grealish and Bernardo – two highly press-resistant players but with slightly different skills – Manchester City could also use the wingers as a way to enter the final third by letting them try to beat their marker with progressive carries, or progressive passes.
When looking closer to the player’s statistics, it was often the responsibilities of Grealish to use his dribbling skills to try to break through the opposition lines with a progressive carry. So far this season he has 6.33 carries into the final third per 90 minute*, meanwhile Bernardo Silva has 3.77/90 minute.
Kevin de Bruyne on the other hand is the player with the second highest carries into the final third with 2.99/90 minute, if you were curious.
* Stats as of 29.04.2023
What’s interesting when looking at the inverted wingers in possession statistics is the few crosses they made. So far this season, both Silva and Grealish has only made 0.4 crosses per game, whilst Mahrez has 0.8 crosses per game.
This reveals how a system without attacking fullbacks have forced Manchester City to rely on the vision of the two central midfielders to first and foremost create goal scoring opportunities with Kevin de Bruyne the most important player.
Against the low block
Since his Barcelona days, the attacking patterns to overload the opposition with movements and breaking through the channels have remained. Earlier it was attacking fullbacks who overlapped on the flank to create numerical superiority in the final third with a front 3 becoming a front five.
This resulted in teams defending deeper and deeper to create a compact defensive block that’s hard to penetrate. With less space to move in, creating chances against the low block became harder and harder. Adjustments where needed.
With the 2-3-2-3, or the 3-2-2-3 shape, Pep Guardiola has perfected Manchester City’s way of playing against the low block.
One of the measures taken was to instruct the wingers to stay high and wide. By really stretching the opposition defensive line, it created a dilemma for the opposition. Either concede space on the flanks which the wingers can get space and time to receive and gain control of the ball, or defend wider but concede space in between the channels, which the central attacking midfielders can take advantage of.
As mentioned earlier, the new 3-2-4-1, or the 3-2-2-3 shape gives the perfect foundation for creating an extra man and thereby an overload around the ball zone.
The key against the low block is to have a number of strings to play on. One of them is how the two double pivots operates. Even though they act like a safety net for the team in possession, as they are able to retain possession or pick up loose balls, their positioning enables them to lure the opposition out of their defensive block.
What’s notable is their angle in relationship to the wingers and attacking midfielders. Always available to progress the ball from one flank to the other to move the opposition side to side. If Manchester City is not able to break through the lines on one flank, a diagonal back pass is available to either Rodri or Stones who can switch the ball to the opposite flank.
At the same time, Pep Guardiola has used a lot of effort to try to get Haaland more involved in the game. From a typical attacking pressing forward who looks to run behind the defensive line in his Borussia Dortmund days, Pep has instructed Haaland to come deep to get the ball, rather than sitting on the opposing markers shoulder.
By asking the forward to drop deep, like a False 9 or Deep-lying forward, it aims to create gaps in the opposition defensive structure to penetrate in. With all those movements in the center of the pitch, where the opposition aims to defend, Manchester City can use third man runs and quick short passes and through balls as an element to move the opposition by enticing them to close down the player with the ball while other players move behind their back.
The Duties of the Attacking Midfielders in Manchester City’s 3-2-4-1 System
Traditionally, Pep Guardiola favors wingers with opposite strongest foot of the flank they are playing on. This enables the player to receive and put pressure on the opposing marker quicker by moving inwards to combine.
When receiving the ball, they could lay it off to one of the teammates that arrives from deep with either an overlapping or underlapping run to beat the press against him, or make progressive carries by cutting inside towards the middle of the pitch.
In Manchester City’s 3-2-4-1 system, there were mainly underlapping runs coming from the two number number eights: Gündogan or de Bruyne. Even though they always looked to find pockets of spaces to make themselves available, the player furthest away would look to make penetrating third man runs in between the channels which the wingers could look for in order to enter the final third.
As the inverted wingers cuts inside with the ball and dribble the ball directly towards the opposing marker, Manchester City under Pep Guardiola relies on lots of opposite movements and third man runs.
Without wingbacks, the roles of the attacking midfielders becomes essentially more important.
When one of the wingers received the ball, it was a signal for the opposing central midfielder to make movements into the channel providing more space for the winger to either make diagonal movements with the ball towards the center, lay it off to a player who can switch the point of attack, or make quick one-two’s with the attacking midfielder underlapping him.
The attacking midfielders would normally roam between the lines in a typical 2-3-2-3 / 3-2-2-3 shape where each player looked to utilize the space outside the opposing defensive midfielders.
What we would often see on the left flank, was the opposite movement from Silva and de Bruyne. When Silva made an inverted run with the ball, de Bruyne moved wide towards the flank much like an attacking Mezzala, as this heat map from the Champions League match versus RB Leipzig shows us. This was the first event, to my knowledge Pep Guardiola tried the 3-2-4-1 system and it resulted in a 7-0 win and progress to quarter finals.
The duties of Kevin de Bruyne has become more and more attacking over the following matches. At times he’s played more like a second forward than a traditional midfielder. How he operates has some clear advantages both in and out of possession, something we will discover more in the section about Manchester City out of possession.
Anyway, when the team was in possession the roaming of Kevin de Bruyne between the lines gave the team a free man to distract the man-marking pressing of the opposition. If one of the opposing markers tracked him, it would leave space for another to take advantage of.
Kevin de Bruyne was often seen roaming in the area between the defenders and defensive midfielders from side to side in the attacking third to offer an additional passing option.
When receiving the ball, de Bruyne could either run with the ball, make through balls towards the opposite side of the pitch, or combine with Haaland or Silva. As the pass map from the Bayern Munich game illustrates, he would have the option to lay the ball off to Rodri who could switch the ball to Gündogan who had the opportunity to advance play to Grealish or back to where the ball came from.
On the ball, de Bruyne would often look to make crosses towards the far post where Haaland had tracked towards. This season, de Bruyne has made 211 crosses – the most crosses in the team and fourth most crosses in the Premier League – only five fewer than Trent Alexander-Arnold.
His attacking attitude with the ball has seen the player making the 5th most crosses into the penalty box in Premier League. This has resulted in 16 assists and a total of 90 key passes when there’s five matches yet to play. That’s an assist every 64th minute!
On the right flank, Gündogan tended to be more disciplined with his forward movements. It all depending on who had the ball and where. If Akanji had the ball on the right hand flank, Gündogan would make penetrating runs in behind the opposing defensive line. If Grealish had the ball, he would stay in cover or come to support to provide passing option and an outlet for the team to progress play into the final third with combination play.
From time to time, Gündogan and de Bruyne would switch positions to further distract and beat the opposing man-marking system. This is somthing we saw in the match against Liverpool where de Bruyne and Grealish combined with great combination play, and where the inverted wingers moved into channels instead of the central attacking midfielders.
Regardless of their positioning, the attacking patterns of play when Manchester City enters final third looks to create numerical advantage and overloads in specific zones on the pitch. Their passing patterns look to create an extra man in possession to beat the press. In Pep Guardiola’s system, the structure of the 3-2-5 meant that one of the four midfielders got the opportunity to become the extra man.
While Stones could be described as the extra man in the first sequences of the build-up, Kevin de Bruyne would act like a free man in the final third.
As he roamed between the lines and looked to find pocket of spaces to receive the ball, how the rest of the team behaved with the ball at their feet was of importance to whether Man city could work the ball into a goalscoring opportunity.
When Gündogan had possession of the ball, the number of passing options made the team enable to both maintain control of possession if gaps to penetrate didn’t arupt, or build an attack by progressing the ball forward.
For instance, if the opposing marker pushes out of his zone to close down Gündogan, the support from Kevin de Bruyne gave him the opportunity to play a quick one-two towards the right side of zone 14, and then onto Haaland who can make a first time shot, or carry the ball towards the goal before placing the shot at the back of the net.
These 3vs2 small sided scenarios summarizes most of the key principles to Pep Guardiola’s attacking football philosophy magnificently. When the team is in possession, it must abide to the rules of positional play to create numerous overloads, exploit the half spaces, have a lot of movement and vertical play that helps to come to goalscoring opportunities more effectively by creating weaknesses in the opposition’s defensive block that can be utilized effectively.
The movements of players combined with their positioning and duty enables the team to attack in multiple zones and channels at the same time – something that aims to dominate the opposition on their own half.
A brief insight to Gündogan’s and Kevin de Bruyne’s attacking contribution
The difference in duties of Gündogan and de Bruyne in possession is also seen in the statistics and how they are contributing to the team’s passing play. While de Bruyne is topping the chart for both shot-creating actions and goal-creating actions per 90 minutes, Gündogan doesn’t stand out in the statistics in a similar manner.
When Rodri makes the most progressive passes into the final third with 8.48 passes per game and de Bruyne making 3.51 passes into the penalty area per game, Gündogan makes slightly more passes into the final third than de Bruyne (4.72 vs 4.58).
Gündogan’s pass completion ratio is at 85.9% compared to Kevin de Bruyne’s 72.5%. This shows that he’s more likely to make short passes and combine with his closest teammates than de Bruyne who is mainly responsible for creating chances and delivering crosses into the penalty box.
So far, he has made the most crosses per game for Manchester City with 2.1 crosses per game.
This is a result of his positioning and body angle in the final third as he helps to overload on the right side and stay wide of the right half space channel to get enough space to pick out a pass – much similar to how Barcelona’s Pedri or Arsenal’s Martin Ødegaard operates in their respective sides attacking game.
Manchester City Out of Possession
A mantra for Pep Guardiola since the early days of his managerial career is that having the ball is the best form of defence. Over time he has used a lot of effort to find the ideal way to come up with the perfect system which is as solid at the back as it’s attacking potent.
Manchester City’s tactics is build around an aggressive way of defending where the focus is to try to regain possession as soon after the ball is lost. With numerical superiority around the ball zone it enables Manchester City to counter-press more effectively by trying to prevent counter-attacking initiatives by closing the opposing player on the ball as quickly as possible before he gets time and control to pick out a pass.
Attack and defence is the same thing. You defend well, you attack better. When you attack better you are more aggressive without the ball […]Pep Guardiola
This attacking way of defending is something Pep Guardiola had to make huge improvements upon when experiencing the quick transitions and the tempo Bundesliga teams had with their gegenpressing style when managing Bayern Münich. No longer could Pep Guardiola only consider pressing the opposition in their own half to regain possession quickly and swiftly, but also what happens to the team in the defensive transition if they are able to play it through to the striker or long to the opposite wing.
To stop the counter-attacks and that pin-ball machine like back and forth football where none of the teams are in control, Pep Guardiola had to look at how he could defend with the ball and how he could apply immediately pressure on the ball, if the ball is lost high up the pitch. and with acres of space to counter in due to the extremely high line Pep Guardiola favored at Barcelona.
The solution became positioning and compactness – as in the principles of positional play.
Manchester City’s defensive structures
Since his Barca days, Pep Guardiola has favored defending in a 4-1-4-1 shape. Over the years, as he has changed to both a 4-2-3-1 formation and the new 3-2-4-1 at Manchester City, which we are about to talk about, Pep Guardiola has started to defend in a 4-4-2 / 4-2-4 structure more often.
In my perspective, the 4-2-4 structure, together with the 4-2-3-1, is one of the best structures for pressing high. With a front four you’re able to create numerical superiority and thereby isolate the opposite defender when they are trying to build out from the back.
With a minor tweak to positioning, the team leading by the striker can force play into a specific area of the pitch by forcing the ball onto a defenders weak foot and thereby put pressure on the players on the left flank by staying in a man-to-man marking press with one of the central midfielders, or the striker, keeping control of the opposing defensive midfielder.
When it comes to Pep Guardiola and his Manchester City pressing tactics, which defensive formation he uses depends on whether the team press high or defend on their own defensive third.
Manchester City’s 4-4-2: The settled block
In the 4-4-2 mid to low block, the defensive midfielder (Stones) will drop in between the centre back and right fullback meanwhile the two wingers will drop deep and stay narrower.
The defensive tactics of Manchester City’s Pep Guardiola looks to apply the same principles as the ones they are trying to deal with in possession: congest the middle with a compact shape that makes it harder for the opposition to penetrate in as well as force the opposition down the flanks where it’s easier to set up a pressing trap – as the byline would act like a 12th man.
In a settled block, the tendency of Kevin de Bruyne to close down the opposing defender made the team seem like the team was defending in a 4-4-2 defensive structure.
Kevin de Bruyne would often follow de Ligt and force him to play it back to the goalkeeper when the team was in a mid-high block but could also press Upamecano if necessary. As soon as de Ligt received the ball, Kevin de Bruyne would push out of his position to force a back pass or a pass towards the wing where either Haaland or Silva could try to intercept the path of.
The 4-4-2 defensive structure enables the team to stay deep and remain compact between the lines.
With a box of four players in all channels, the positioning of the players can easily help to create defensive overloads by 4vs3 or 3vs2. This means that the opposition team has to become smarter and more creative in their positioning and movements to break through the lines – something that increases the risk of errors.
When defending in a 4-4-2 formation deep into their own half, Pep would normally ask the wingerst to tuck inside to create two lines of four with minimal space between eachother. Its aim is to force the opposition down the flanks rather than penetrat through the middle.
The roles of the striker and the second forward in these situations is simply to prevent the team to switch the ball from one flank to another more easily by keeping control of the opposing center back when they are in possession.
By moving from a four at the back with fullbacks or inverted wingbacks, the new 3-2-4-1 tactics of Manchester City is more aimed at winning possession high up the pitch than to defend in a low block. If they needs to defend for lengthy periods, the inverted wingers are instructed to keep control of the opposing fullback in order to avoid numerical superiority down the flanks and eventually overlaps.
Against Bayern Münich we saw clear examples of Pep Guardiola using hybrid pressing to avoid Tuchel’s men to advance play forward. With a 4-2-4 defensive structure, a lot of effort was used to disrupt Bayern’s build-up and limit the number of passing options for the ball carrier.
Hybrid pressing is essentially a mix between zonal marking and man-to-man marking.
To remain control out of possession, specific players had to man mark the opposing players in order to reduce the risk of being outnumbered. That meant that John Stones would need to keep control of the second forward (or attacking midfielder) to help Dias while the two inverted wingers had to man mark and follow the opposing fullbacks.
The role of the wide centre backs, or the fullbacks, in the 3-2-4-1 system is kind of special in the defensive transition phase, and when the team is counter-pressing. Since they are instructed to hold position rather than bomb forward to provide overlaps, their slightly deeper positions means they have to push up to support the high press when the team is chasing possession.
Most often, they will look to provide cover for the front three who are trying to close down the opposing player on the ball by moving into the back of the opposing winger to make it hard for him to gain control with them breathing down his neck.
The difference to Pep’s Barcelona and the counter-attacking weaknesses down the right flank with Daniel Alves acting like a fifth attacker is noticeable. Since Daniel Alves provided a defensive weakness down the right hand flank if he wasn’t able to recover into his defensive positioning, Pep Guardiola has found a new method to reduce the risk of getting caught on defensive transition with speed with his 3-2-5 shape where the fullbacks and double pivots create the necessary support and cover for the forwards to press man to man.
Man City’s 4-2-4 High Pressing Structure
In the 4-2-4 high press, Pep Guardiola instructed his players to close down Bayern’s left hand flank more often than on the right.
The front four of Pep Guardiola’s 4-2-4 high pressing structure was made up of Grealish, Haaland, Kevin de Bruyne, who acted as a second forward, and Silva.
To reduce the risk of Bayern progressing the ball out from the back with great success, Pep took advantage of Bernardo Silva’s workload and intensity to set immediate pressure on Alphonso Davies, meanwhile Kevin de Bruyne and Haaland closed down de Ligt and Upamecano.
In this system, the front two would focus on screening passing lanes in the middle and force the opposition down the flanks. The result was that it was one of the wingers who would be the first to apply pressure on the ball – ensuring the team could defend compact and remain solid between the lines.
This illustration shows how the two forwards, Haaland and de Bruyne, provides the necessary defensive security in the middle, which reduces the chances of the opposition team to play their way out of defensive third through the middle, and at the same time gives the double pivot the chance to stay deeper and more compact to the central defenders.
When the front three of Silva, Haaland and Kevin de Bruyne was closing down and reducing the passing options for the player on the ball, Gündogan and Rodri would zonal mark the center of the pitch.
The deep positioning of the central midfielders protected the center from deep penetrating through balls, or longer counter-attacking moves to the strikers. By protecting the area behind the front four, Gündogan and Rodri was always able to try to recover second balls or cover for the forward’s pressing initative.
A few times, Rodri would step up from his defensive position to signalize for his front attackers to press higher. When that happened, he would also join the press by following the opposing defensive midfielder, Joshua Kimmich, trying to avoid Bayern to use him as an outlet in the build-up.
The result of Man City’s counter-pressing
The aggressiveness of Manchester City when Bayern, or any opposition team has the ball is another dimension to the success of Pep’s winning tactics. Here the work ethic of the pressing forward out of possession is as important to disrupt play and force errors as the tackling, positioning and ability to win the ball cleanly by Rodri and the fullbacks deeper on the pitch.
To summarize, how the front four apply pressure and who are applying the pressure first enables Manchester City to deny obvious passing options and force them to play the ball longer and into space as the closing down instructions stresses the opposition team in the build up in a manner that increases the chance of winning possession deeper on the field – perhaps from interceptions from Gündogan, Rodri, or one of the two fullbacks.
As a prime example, Rodri has made 2.1 tackles per game this season and won possession 1.2 times per game. Against Bayern, he won 8/10 ground duels and made 4 tackles. Bernardo Silva for instance, won 12 out of 23 ground duels and made 8 tackles. Not far away from Akanji’s 7 out of 11 ground duels won and 7 tackles.
These statistics not only proofs how great Manchester City are at winning possession down their right flank, but also how they were able to reduce the attacking threat of Bayern by aggressiveness, work ethic and strong tackles. The result was an abysmal average rating of eblow 6 for both Alphonso Davies and Upamecano.
NB! The match against Bayern represents a game out of the ordinary for Manchester City. Not only had they less possession than the opposition as the game became a ping-pong match, no other matches has the team won more tackles in the attacking third, and in overall than in the first leg of the UEFA Champions League quarter finals. But the high press paid off.
The Weakness of the 3-2-4-1
Every formation has its pros and cons. While Pep Guardiola’s Man City tactics enables the team to overload the opposition in the final third with a 3-2-5 shape and create numerical superiority in the middle with a box midfield, especially when coming up against a 4-3-3.
Despite the intent on surrounding the opponent by having players positioning close together, so if the ball is lost it’s easier to regain it, the 3-2-4-1 system has it’s flaws out of possession. One of them is the space behind the wingers and the increased likeliness to set up overlaps down the flanks.
However, when coming up against the 4-2-3-1, Tuchel and Bayern Münich was able to counter the 3-2-4-1 in some ways. For the first time in years, Pep Guardiola went off the field with less possession than his opponent – 44% to 56%.
The concept of using 5 forwards results in an higher need to do the defending higher up. While the 3-2 defensive structure at the back helps to protect all the five channels against counter-attacks it puts more emphasize on the need of the wingers to contribute to more defensive actions.
For instance, Bernardo Silva was the desired player at right flank due to his top notch work load and ability to press the opposing fullback and centre back for the entire 90 minutes.
But if possession isn’t won high up the field, Man City needs to move into a defensive block very quickly. That means Stones moving back into the defensive line as the fourth centre back, and the front line retreating into a 4-4-2 shape.
As we saw time and time again, Jamal Musiala (AMC) received huge acres of space between the lines to work his magic. Even though it did not result in any goals, there were major chances that could have changed the 3-2-4-1 from a winning tactics into another 200IQ failure.
The new system requires man to man marking at specific positions to reduce the vulnerable space. Wingers needs to man mark and follow the wingers in order to avoid 2vs1 situations down the wide channels.
Stones needs to either man mark the AMC, one of the wingers, or one of the strikers, to free up the responsibilities of Aké and Akanji, so they can track the opposing winger (Sané and Coman), or defend the channels on either side of Dias who will often stay one on one against the opposing forward.
If they don’t track back the opposing team will easily create overloads down the flank.
The use of five up front increases the risk of quick turnovers in the large space behind Gündogan and Kevin de Bruyne in the half space.
At the same time, if faced with quick wingers like Sané the positioning of the wide centre-backs in the build-up can risk the opposing team trying to focus their play down the flanks and win possession by closing down the wide centre-backs when they are in possession by reducing the number of available passes, resulting in an opportunity to come clean on goal with only the goalkeeper to beat.
For it to work, you need players who are disciplined, got great awareness and is composed with the ball at their feet.
Our tactical analysis of Pep Guardiolas Manchester City tactics and the insight to Pep’s new 3-2-4-1 formation provides a great foundation before looking at how we recreate Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City 2022/23 tactics in Football Manager 2023.
In chapter two, we take a closer look at the FM23 Pep Guardiola Manchester City 3-2-4-1 tactic and how to play like Pep Guardiola in Fotball Manager 2023.
Download FM23 Pep Guardiola Tactics
The Football Manager 2023 Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City tactics is here!
Enter the world of Pep Guardiola’s mastermind. Play the new football meta in Football Manager 2023 with Passion4FM’s replication of Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City 3-2-4-1 tactics from 2022/23 season, or play with the traditional Pep Guardiola 4-3-3 tactic in FM23.
Bro when you releasing it
any idea when this will be released? a time frame?
When is it coming out? I'm so excited i've literally been checking every day lmao.
Hi, I read that the 4-3-3 that was used by the city was also found in the package, right?
I wanted to ask you if, even for this tactic, you have to incorporate a training program like the ones it was recommended to use for Barça's tactics
Thanks, I look forward to the new tactics
When will the Tactic Dowlods be released?
Hopefully soon! Unfortunately haven't had time to work on it as I had imagined.