It was 15th December, and Manchester City had picked up a 1-1 draw against West Brom. With City sitting sixth in the table, many would have played down their chances to lift the title. Fast forward to five months; the Sky Blues have been now crowned as the Premier League with games to spare. In fact, they went on a relentless streak from the start of this year, leaving a majority of the teams behind his trail.
In addition, Pep Guardiola‘s men successfully won the Carabao Cup and are eyeing a treble as they are set to face Chelsea in the Premier League. But it wasn’t plain sailing for the Spanish manager as he is coming off a disappointing 19/20 season, in which Liverpool won the title without breaking much sweat. Guardiola was watchful in not repeating the same mistakes of the last season, and although there was a fluctuation in the form at the start of the season, he managed to build a nearly unmatchable squad to get his hands at the league title for the third time. Here are the five impactful changes the former Barcelona gaffer made to inspire Citizens to the Premier League title.
Building a strong defence around Ruben Dias and John Stones
City’s defence was highly criticized last season, and perhaps it proved to be detrimental to their title defence. The inability to find a replacement for Vincent Company and long-time injury to Aymeric proved so costly for the Citizens. Guardiola was only left with the likes of Nicolas Otamendi, an inconsistent John Stones and even Fernandinho was deployed as a makeshift centre-back, but the output was little to none.
This season, the first thing City did in the transfer market was signing two talented defenders in Nathan Ake and Ruben Dias, with the latter went on to have a terrific season. The Portuguese teamed up with now revived Stones, proved to be too hot to handle for all the attackers – it is an extensive list that contains the names of stars like Kylian Mbappe and Neymar. Both Dias and Stones helped City maintain a strong defensive record this season, which turned out to be one of the key factors for Man City’s success.
Turning Ilkay Gundogan into a world-class midfielder
Ilkay Gundogan has been ever-present for the Sky Blues, but not until this season did he manage to make people sing praises of him. In a stacked midfield with the likes of Rodri, Bernardo Silva, Fernandinho and Kevin de Bruyne, Gundogan was the cut above the rest as Guardiola helped him unlock his full potential. The 30-year-old has 16 goals and 4 assists to his name in all competitions this term and has stepped up in bigger opponents like Liverpool, Chelsea and Tottenham.
The revelation of Joao Cancelo
Only Guardiola can turn an ordinary player into a top-class, and once again, it became evident with Joao Cancelo. Having been deemed as a big transfer failure by many, the Spanish gave the Portuguese full-back a special role this season – a hybrid of winger/wingback – and in turn, he flourished in that new role. Cancelo was given the freedom to attack while occupying more spaces in the middle of the park and in a more advanced region, where he can have a go at the goal.
No strikers, no problems for Guardiola
It is hard to see nowadays top clubs dominate without a nominal striker barring Man City. City too have two prolific centre-forwards in Sergio Aguero and Gabriel Jesus, but both have been injury-prone this season. Hence, Guardiola often deployed the likes of Phil Foden, Kevin De Bruyne and Bernardo Silva as sort of false 9’s, and it was to greater effect.
Foden coming of age
Phil Foden has been Guardiola’s catalyst this season as the English youngster doesn’t fear to showcase his talent, no matter where he is being placed on the pitch. The 20-year-old has mustered 14 goals and 10 assists in all competitions this season – already bettered last season’s tally – and his coming of age is a good sign for City. Furthermore, most of his contributions have come in big games like Chelsea, Liverpool and Borussia Dortmund this season.