Pep Guardiola has pudding for breakfast. For lunch he wolfs down dinner. When it’s time for tea he reaches for the Kellogg’s.
All is not as it seems in the world of Pep. Try and go to the toilet in his house and you’ll end up in the attic wading your way through dissertations on the lessons football can take from badminton.
Guardiola is the man who stuck Lionel Messi up front and told him to do battle in the land of the giants. Guardiola asks his full-backs to ignore the acres of space out wide and instead go toe-to-toe with central midfielders. Guardiola expects his goalkeeper to be better on the ball than the oppositions’s no.10.
Remember when you had to deconstruct a rapidly thawing frog in Biology class and someone would always faint? Swap Biology class for the Etihad and Unai Emery for the faintee and you’ve got Guardiola’s latest experiment.
Guardiola revealed his latest creation- the ‘false centre-back’- in front of 54,483 mesmerised spectators at the Etihad when Man City played Arsenal. Luckily for all involved, the dead frog had been replaced by Fernandinho.
In doing so, Pep confirmed a long-standing theory; the more All Saints scarves he wears, the crazier his tactics.
This wasn’t a case of throwing your centre-back up front for the last five minutes or utilising your reasonably technical centre-back in midfield once in a while.
Nope, Pep essentially created a new position for Fernandinho. The Brazil international lined up alongside Nicolas Otamendi in a back four as Arsenal kicked off.
As soon as City gained possession the 33-year-old moved into the centre of midfield, allowing Kevin De Bruyne, Ilkay Gundogan and David Silva to roam.
Of Fernandinho’s 69 touches only four came inside City’s box, compared to ten inside the centre circle. Similarly, only two of Fernandinho’s 57 passes were played from inside his own area.
Fernandinho was a midfielder in all but name. Paolo Maldini would have been pulling his immaculate hair out at the sight of Fernandinho leaving Otamendi- a defender who makes Sergio Ramos looked composed- alone at the back.
City’s dominance in possession meant Arsenal were never able to exploit the glaring gap in defence, despite playing with both Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang in attack.
A false defence is the best form of attack when you play under Pep.
The birth of the ‘false centre-back’ makes you wonder why City didn’t go all out in the battle to beat Barcelona to Frenkie De Jong’s signature.
Ajax have deployed the 21-year-old as a sweeper several times this season. The Dutchman’s comfort in possession allows him to bring the ball out from the back and launch attacks.
Guardiola now faces one of the toughest tasks of his time at City in attempting to replace Fernandinho.
If history is anything to go by, Guardiola will have transformed Eliaquim Mangala into Europe’s finest false centre-back by this time next season.
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