Why Guardiola’s System was not to Blame for Leicester City Defeat

A humbling 4-2 defeat away at a resurgent Leicester City on Saturday saw Pep Guardiola’s side drop to fourth place in the table, having taken only 12 points from the previous 27 available in the Premier League. The Citizens were left stunned as a Jamie Vardy hat-trick and a cracking strike from Andy King compounded their own lack of cutting edge in the final third and continued to highlight weaknesses in defence.

City found themselves trailing 0-2 after just five minutes, and it didn’t get any better as time and again they were sloppy in possession, gifting easy opportunities for Leicester to utilise their pace on the counter attack. After twenty minutes it was 3-0 to the Foxes as Vardy rounded Claudio Bravo and slipped in his second of the game.

İlkay Gündoğan and Kelechi Iheanacho made way for Yaya Touré and Raheem Sterling early in the second half yet in truth the game was already gone. City dominated possession but made little use of the ball, with attempts on Leicester’s goal few and far between, only four of nineteen on target.

A poor backpass by John Stones gave Vardy the chance to shoot from a seemingly impossible angle, the ball tracking along the goal line before spinning over after contact with the far post. Two late consolation goals from Spanish winger Nolito and Aleksandar Kolarov gave the scoreline some respectability but it made little difference to Guardiola’s and the team’s mood.

Post-match, Guardiola was quick to dispel suggestions that the lack of tactical continuity in defence was to blame for their poor run of form.

“It was definitely not the game we wanted. In four minutes 2-0 is not easy. Leicester are so good on the counter attack and second balls. They defended so well. When they win the ball, they are looking for our back four with their movement. When they arrived [in the final third], they always created problems. We tried until the end. We arrived a lot [in the final third] and we made a few goals. Our game is not bad but in the boxes, we have a problem. It is not about the system.

“We defended well with these players at the beginning of the season. In every game, there are some good things but it is difficult at this level at 2-0 and 3-0 down. Now, we have to stand up and analyse what happened, especially mentally to [encourage] the players to step forward. Football is a game of good things, bad things and mistakes. I never complain to my players. I have to look inside myself – what I have to do – and they have to follow me. We have missed points in the last games. We have to change as quickly as possible.”

When pressed by newspaper reporters for thoughts on why his team hadn’t won a single tackle until the 35th minute the Catalan responded defensively.

“It’s typical here in England when they use a lot of tackles. I am not a coach for the tackles. I don’t train for tackles. What I want is to try to play well and score goals. What are tackles? Normally when you play well you win tackles. After four minutes, at 2-0 down, the mind of the players is ‘What is going on? What happened?’ It is not easy for them. It is another aspect of football but in the end we are not going to win or lose because of the tackles.”

Followers of Guardiola’s career as a manager will instantly recognise this spiky version of Pep. He is a man totally committed to his philosophy and has always been consistent in rejecting suggestions that he should change his approach.

Despite being left isolated by the back three system employed against Leicester, Guardiola defended the performance of Stones. It shows that ultimately the manager trusts his centre-back and sees him as being capable of far more than being a physical presence at the back.

Others will point to the parallels with Chelsea’s David Luiz, once derided by experts as being a great footballer but showing limited prowess in the art of defending, Luiz has come back into the Premier League this season after two seasons in Ligue 1 with Paris Saint-Germain with greater maturity and is showing better decision making. Stones could be on the early part of that journey where making mistakes will lead to him being a better player further down the line.

Guardiola’s previous record at both Barcelona and Bayern Munich suggests that his methods and demands for tactical dexterity do work. The ease with which Barcelona used to switch between a back four and a back three mid-match to expose opponents’ weaknesses was something special to behold. As opposed to his philosophy being broken and unworkable in the Premier League, where even the teams towards the bottom of the league will make up for technical deficiencies with work-rate and running the hard-yards, it will only be a matter of time before his system clicks and results improve.

Guardiola will be at City’s training ground on Sunday sitting in his office reviewing footage of the Leicester defeat for many hours, looking to detect where the small details of his plan did not work, or what tweaks he can put in place. The training pitch is where he will do his work and where City’s players will need to do their work to get back to winning ways.

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