When Pep Guardiola arrived at City, he had not so much an issue but more of an obstacle to overcome. While seeking to implement his attacking philosophy instantaneously, he was left with what can only be seen as a positive problem to solve.
Pep had two of the club’s most prestigious players in David Silva and Kevin De Bruyne at his disposal. However, he needed to find a way to utilise the pair and get the best out of them simultaneously as they both feature finest in the number 10 role.
This was something ex-City manager Manuel Pellegrini also struggled with consistently. The Chilean tended to opt for De Bruyne on the left and Silva in the centre. However, his successor Guardiola has masterminded a way to use both while playing them in their preferred positions and to great effect, utilising their skill-sets to a maximum.
He initiated the idea of two ‘Free 8’s’ while maintaining the shape of his favoured 4-3-3 system.
That also includes a deep-lying holding midfielder to support and shield the defence while having two attacking midfielders left and right of this focal point:
David Silva, who excels in small spaces due to his agility and ball control which enables him to manoeuvre his way out effortlessly. Silva’s passes are of pinpoint precision and allow him to play to the left.
And on the right-hand side is Kevin De Bruyne, who is suited more to counter-attacking football and has ball delivery that is the envy of any footballer, whether from a set piece or by crossing or shooting.
These ‘free 8’s’ operate between the lines and pick up loose balls and create chances when receiving the ball from the holding midfielder, in our case Fernandinho. This worked to great effect during the early months of the season as City were top of the league and De Bruyne created the most chances and assists in a blue shirt.
However, when Ilkay Gundogan returned from injury, the system was changed to fit him in, and in some games, one of Silva or De Bruyne was pushed out to the left to accommodate the German.
From then, and with Fernandinho lost to suspension for long periods, Pep has chopped and changed his formations and strategies, varying from a narrow 4-1-2-1-2 to a 3-4-2-1 and none has suited City in the long run.
For the recent home game against Spurs, Pep reverted to playing his ‘Free 8’s with what he deemed sufficient defensive cover in Yaya Toure. City then played in the way they began the season with some impressive passages of play crafted by the midfield magicians.
With Fernandinho back again, we hope Guardiola maintains this system, as when it is successfully applied, it is capable of bringing down the world’s best, whether Barcelona or any other team for that matter.