In what as the second 4-0 of the week, Pep Guardiola's newly revitalized Manchester City team ran rampant against AFC Bournemouth this past weekend. Their second win of the week made it eight out of eight for the new Blues boss, a start even the most optimistic of City fans wouldn't have expected. However, there's always a problem when it comes to football. Guardiola's post match comments seem to be making a bit of stir in the press. Specifically, his remarks about the quality of the opposition faced so far and how Bournemouth have been the best challenge so far. Many have taken this as a dig at the past opponents, explicitly aimed at Mourinho. Yet, this couldn't be farther from the truth. Here's why.
Bournemouth's Defensive Ideal was Excellent
Before I get slated, let me explain. Bournemouth had the most efficient and effective defensive game plan thus far. The Cherries set up in a 4-4-2 formation with the two banks of four occupying the middle of the pitch. The forward bank of four stayed put and never sought to press out when City's three defensive players were in possession. The purpose of playing the three at the back and playing the ball on the ground from the goalkeeper is to entice teams to press so that intelligent positioning and passing can expose the space further up the field. The occupation of the central midfield area made it so that there were only two ways City were able to work the ball up the field. Either send a long ball up, lose the aerial battle and use the counter press to win back the second ball, which in fact was City's defensive game plan against United, stated by Guardiola himself, or use passing triangles at the very edges of the field in order to utilize the small amount of space created by the fact that City play with a front five and Bournemouth only had a line of four defenders. The stoic second bank of four midfielders nullified Guardiola's ability to use passing triangles in the middle of the field, an indispensable cog in the Catalan's overarching philosophy.
The reason the triangles are so important is because they allow ball movement in tight areas where it's difficult to control the ball. They're a key method of possessional transportation in a system that requires players to be proficient in a variety of positions all over the pitch. Most players move towards the ball when in possession in order to have the best chance of keeping it; that's not possible in a Guardiola system. Since the Spaniard demands positional rigidity, players must stay in their shape, and trust that the players near the ball will be skillful enough to move out of dangerous situations. Bournemouth's defensive rigidity allowed for very few passes to be made it impossible for any triangles to be formed in a central area, and ultimately forced City to play on the counter.
That is the main reason why Eddie Howe and his player's performance proved to be the most challenging of the season. It forced this talented City side to do the only thing they haven't been successful at: counter attacking. In the games against Sunderland, West Ham, and United, City struggled with the final ball in quick counter situations. This ineptitude on a fast break is even something Guardiola himself has spoken about, "You have the chance to make the counter attacks, and we had many. We didn't finish. It's happened similar in Stoke City, similar in West Ham. When the game is open, because it's typical here in England, you don't finish these actions, you will suffer in the end. Today we were lucky." These were his comments after the derby on City's lack of finishing with counter attacking chances.
Eddie Howe's tactical strategy might not have worked, seeing that they lost 4-0 it's obvious that it didn't, but it was the most logical and best approach that he could use to try and be successful. That's why it was the most challenging contest thus far. The comments weren't put forward as a dig at any player, manager or team. Guardiola doesn't like the media games; he's stated that many times before. The over inflation of what he said seems to be more along the lines of the press trying to make mountains out of molehills.