When Manchester City took the pitch to face Stoke and West Ham earlier this season, with full-backs racing around the midfield and joining the attack with sincere vigor and bite, Pep Guardiola was able to celebrate the intense creativity that his squad wielded. However, he tempered expectations and alluded to areas of weakness.
While the world pitted Pep vs. Mourinho, Antonio Conte planted seeds with a talented Chelsea crew who have emerged as the current innovators of the EPL. Without European matches, they have been able to retain intense focus on league play and — just like Liverpool — have benefited significantly. Conversely, the USMNT and Spain looked awkward during short-lived attempts at a back three.
As the campaign has progressed, the Sky Blues' form has looked a touch more traditional with occasional ventures towards a back three emerging against opponents like West Brom a few weeks ago. It hasn't look as great as Conte's on a results front, but it has looked good in terms of performances when used by Guardiola.
Fernandinho can be instrumental to City’s effort to operate on a higher level. John Stones will continue to be tested, not only as a player in development, but as one who can and must play a crucial role in the implementation of a more advanced formation. The entire squad will undergo various degrees of rotation during this arduous hunt for multiple trophies, and hopefully the constant search of a perfect formation is over before the really difficult games begin.
Until then, the experiment continues.