If at the finish line City is close to first place and feels blood, then it’s over. They can’t be stopped once the series starts. It will be surprising if they draw at least once. City is ruthless in this mode.
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How does City do it and what does Liverpool have to do with it?
Trent Alexander-Arnold knows City’s knack for winning streaks at the pinnacle of the season: twice his Liverpool was just one point behind in the title race. In general, the feature is inherent in all of Guardiola’s championships in Manchester. There are five Pep teams in the top 10 longest winning streaks in Premier League history. All five became champions.
With winning streaks, City solves different problems. If it falls in the first half or the middle of the season, it turns out to make a reserve, which then helps at the finish line. If the series ends up in the second half or even the ending, it turns out to overtake the team that had the audacity to break away and dream about the title.
Not only the number of matches is impressive, but also the duration of the series – City does not make mistakes for literally months. The record was in the 2017/18 season – then the series lasted four months, and absolutely all autumn passed without losses. The most important was the series in the 2020/21 season: winning two and a half months, City jumped from ninth place to first.
Pep’s certainty with tactics after searching at the start
At the last press conference, Pep said that every season he has to add something new to the team. Sometimes it’s influenced by the squad that changes after the transfer window, sometimes it’s influenced by opponents who adapt their game to City’s strengths. As a result, at the start of a campaign, Pep is usually looking for either a new tactic that can surprise, or a new position for the players that can reveal their unexpected talents. When this process ends, City starts a winning streak.
A good example is Pep’s relationship with full-backs. In the 2017/18 season, Guardiola tried to set up the left flank to connect with Benjamin Mendy, a classic full-back bought from Monaco. Due to an injury, the Frenchman had to urgently look for an alternative – Fabian Delph suddenly became her, having studied the functions of a false full-back over the summer.
A similar story happened in the 2020/21 season, when Pep flirted with a 4-2-3-1 formation that requires full-backs to be active. Due to poor results, I had to return to a proven model with false fullbacks.
The revelation of the new old system was Joao Cancelo, a right-hander who played on the left flank of the defense with offsets to the center. Interestingly, this season the Portuguese had to leave because of another attempt by Pep to change everything. The reshuffle again concerned the structure of the draws, where City now have not two, but only one false full-back.
Pep’s mentality does not allow to relax after the titles
Shock, but City won the Premier League before Guardiola. Each time, the challenge was to defend the title. After winning the title with Roberto Mancini the following year, City were 11 points behind United. After the championship with Manuel Pellegrini, the championship was handed over to Chelsea – this time with a gap of 8 points.
The mentality of Guardiola was well revealed in the documentary that City showed at the end of the 2018/19 season. Then the team gave out a series in the second round, and Pep did not let him relax even after very bright victories. After the Old Trafford derby, Guardiola remarked: “If we had won in November, December or January, we would have celebrated this victory a little longer. We’ll enjoy it tonight, no question, but that’s it. You have to keep focusing.”
Turning honest conversation in the locker room
City started their winning streak this season after an unexpected 1-1 draw against Nottingham. Judging by the reaction of the players, it was hot in the dressing room. Kyle Walker said: “Before that, we beat Arsenal away, playing the way we played, and then we came here and lost points. Unacceptable. If we want to compete with teams that are at the top, every game has to be treated like a cup final.”
That conversation is considered a turning point within City. Here is Rodri’s recent confession: “I remember that game against Nottingham. After that, we had a conversation. Everyone agreed that just playing well is not enough. You need to punish the opponent and play cooler. From that moment on, we switched the mode – you could at least notice it in our behavior in training.”