As every City fan eagerly awaits the start of what is set to be a fantastic Barclays Premier League season, many may wonder what kind of football City will strive to play as they kick off against Sunderland on the thirteenth of August. Manchester City have often been a counter-attacking team that swash-buckled their way to several trophies in the past few years, but that's all set to change with the arrival of Pep Guardiola. The former Barcelona manager has been praised for his revolutionary tactics that involve high possession and passing stats coinciding with the ability to make the opposition succumb to his will via strangulating possession. He's experimented with a variety of different formations both at Bayern Munich and Barcelona which begs the question; how will Guardiola lineup at Manchester City?
Though Pep is inclined to have his teams be flexible and use a variety of different formations, one of the most likely set up's would be the 3-4-3. The three P's of position, possession, and play must emanate from any formation the manager seeks to employ, but the 3-4-3 gives a new team the best chance of executing those important ideals. The front three offers width at the top, which is important in keeping the oppositions back line stretched out and flat so that midfielders and overlapping fullbacks can make penetrating runs. Jordi Alba's time at Barcelona under Guardiola is a perfect example of how this is executed correctly. When the back line becomes one dimensional, balls over the top can take a number of players out of the game and create great scoring chances. Since this formation doesn't offer the opportunity for overlapping fullbacks to make runs, midfielders will have to pick up the responsibility and move intelligently between the lines.
The next big question is whether the midfield four will be flat or diamond shaped. One disadvantage of the 3-4-3 formation is that it can be exposed by width. Since there are only three defenders in the back line, the opposition can stretch the central defenders and isolate these players into uncomfortable defending positions. This is why it's important for one midfielder to be designated as a holder when in possession so that they can drop in, effectively making it a back four, if the ball is lost. A flat four can cause confusion regarding shape so that a midfield diamond would be the best option. The ideal shape would feature Kevin de Bruyne at the tip since his passing range and offensive ability on the ball makes him both a scoring and creative threat. Ilkay Gündogan and Fernandinho would be the two dynamic midfielders on either side, providing intelligent possession and a combination of physicality and passing at the heart of midfield. Fernando has been assured a future at Manchester City so one would imagine that he could fit into the holding role and a perform Arturo Vidal-Esque role when in possession, and fill in as a central defender when needed. Fernando will serve a critical role as the holder, giving the ball to those who are responsible for creating, but also maintaining possession in areas where the opposition will seek to pressure.
As stated before the front three will provide width, which is usually the best way to break down a four-man defense. Through intelligent positioning, Guardiola can get someone like Raheem Sterling back to his very best by allowing him to isolate defenders in wide areas and create chances through take-ons. Often under Pellegrini, the Englishman's creativity was stifled because his sector was occupied by multiple City players, which in turn dragged over more defenders, making it more difficult for Sterling to showcase the side of his game in which he excels.
The only concern that may arise, but this issue may plague any formation Guardiola chooses, is the fact that Sergio Aguero is a counter-attacking striker. The Argentine is at his best when it's quick finishes with few people around him. Not to say he hasn't or cannot do well in order situations, but it's hard to imagine him thriving in a system that seeks to pin back the opponent. Guardiola has often worked with a larger striker that was able to hold up play and bring others into the game. However, this does not shake my belief that a coach like Pep Guardiola would not be able to get the best out of someone like Aguero.
Overall, City already have the majority of players that will fit into Guardiola's ideal first-year formation. He may choose to radically reassess and restructure the team at a latter stage, but accepting that this summer was never going to be a mass influx of Pogba's or players that would cost exorbitant amounts of money is essential in keeping a level head as a fan. Manchester City already posses an incredibly talented squad, one that will greatly benefit from a tactical revitalization; it's simply a matter of utilizing the players at hand more efficiently.