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Oleksandr Zinchenko is just the latest midfielder to thrive in one of Pep Guardiola’s defences

The Ukrainian excelled in the Carabao Cup final but what did his performance tell us about the legendary coach's outlook?

Pep Guardiola may be a ‘bald fraud’ to some but most recognise him as a generation-defining manager.

Heavily influenced by Johan Cruyff, his belief in the all-conquering power of aesthetic football has often persuaded him to break convention.


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Exhibit Z

Getty - Contributor
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Exhibit Z

Oleksandr Zinchenko’s impressive performance in the Carabao Cup final cemented what has been a largely successful transformation.

Man City’s scouts encouraged the club to recruit the young Ukrainian in 2016 having been excited his abilities as a creative midfielder.

A teenage Zinchenko made his name with Ufa in the Russian Premier League by virtue of his technical ability and a natural confidence in possession.

He featured in PSV’s midfield while on loan in 2016/17 but Etihad season ticket holders know him primarily as a left-back.

What’s a boy to do?

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What’s a boy to do?

Benjamin Mendy’s injury troubles have forced Guardiola to perform a familiar trick — the conversion of a gifted midfielder into a defender.

Zinchenko has replicated Fabian Delph, who occupied left-back more than any of his team-mates during City’s 100-point title win.

The former Aston Villa captain generally succeeded in defence through discipline and desire.

Zinchenko has flourished in his new role, both in possession and without it.

It remains to be seen whether the 22-year-old’s switch is permanent, or if he will revert to midfield at some point.

Tried and tested

Bongarts - Getty
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Tried and tested

Full-backs are so important to Guardiola’s tactics as making use of the pitch’s width is a necessity.

Therefore, it is advantageous to have technical passers in place.

David Alaba is Guardiola’s most successful conversion.

The Austrian started his Bayern Munich career as a versatile midfielder.

Even now, he often plays as Austria’s No10 because of his quality in possession.

Freedom

Reuters
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Freedom

But Guardiola wasted no time in deploying him at left-back when he took over from Jupp Heynckes at the Allianz Arena.

Not only did Alaba adapt swiftly, he became his new coach’s most-trusted player — no player started more game in all competitions in Guardiola’s first season in Munich.

Alaba quickly became one of the best left-backs in the world and, at club level, he has never looked back.

Could Zinchenko follow a similar path under Guardiola’s guidance?

Touch tight

News Group Newspapers Ltd
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Touch tight

Premier League fans remember Yaya Toure as an indomitable wrecking ball who did his best work in midfield and the final third.

But during his Barcelona days, Guardiola employed him as the deepest midfielder.

When Sergio Busquets secured his place in the preferred starting XI, the Ivorian was used sporadically at centre-back.

Toure only played a handful of games in defence but his brief conversion is widely remembered because he started at centre-back in the 2009 Champions League final.

Remember this one, Man United fans?

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Remember this one, Man United fans?

Javi Martinez experienced something similar.

Bayern’s record signing (at the time) made his debut as a substitute for Bastian Schweinsteiger, but Guardiola soon followed Marcelo Bielsa’s lead and crafted Martinez as a centre-back.

Fernandinho too has been used as a ghostly ‘false centre-back’ at times during Guardiola’s reign.

We’ve even seen Bernardo Silva as a right-sided wing-back on rare occasions.

“Just few yards deeper please…”

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“Just few yards deeper please…”

While Guardiola is far from the only manager with a fluid approach to positional roles, his trust in natural midfielders to play in defence tells us much about his outlook.

Some managers want strictly defined line-ups — one keeper, four defenders, four midfielders, two strikers.

Guardiola, primarily, wants eleven footballers who believe in his philosophy.

And his first instinct will always be to devise a strategy that allows his team to score goals, lots of them.

If that means playing attacking midfielders in defence, so be it.

This theory even extends to his keeper at Man City — Ederson’s distribution is just as much a feature of his game as his shot-stopping, perhaps more so.

The last line of defence is also the first line of attack

News Group Newspapers Ltd
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The last line of defence is also the first line of attack

As long as Guardiola is involved in football, his teams will endeavour to outscore their opponents.

He will never prioritise frustrating an opponent over effort to play beautiful, effective football.

And for that reason, technical midfielders will invariably feature in his defences for years to come.


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