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This is Pep Guardiola’s best Manchester City team

As recently as January, Pep Guardiola looked to have a series of problems without a solution. Manchester City had dropped points to Everton at home and had lost to Manchester United. They had also lost in the Carabao Cup, a competition City had won five of the last seven seasons. Guardiola’s squad, it was argued, was flawed.

Joao Cancelo’s surprise loan departure to Bayern Munich in January was seen by many as a mistake. The Portuguese international’s exit left City with just one natural full back (Kyle Walker) when Guardiola’s system has long been reliant on the quality of the players in this area of the pitch. 

Erling Haaland’s arrival from Borussia Dortmund last summer also presented Guardiola with a tactical challenge. While the Norwegian’s finishing ability has never been doubted, he is limited in possession play. This was foreseen to be an issue for a Manchester City team that likes to control the ball and play through opponents.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Guardiola has found solutions to every problem he has faced this season. Manchester City have now won 10 matches in a row in all competitions, and are once again favourites to overtake Arsenal and win the Premier League title. Mor significantly, this could finally be the year they lift the Champions League trophy for the first time. It’s shaping up to be a season to remember.

City are stronger than at any other point of Guardiola’s tenure as manager. The system and approach they are using right now is getting the best out of every player on the pitch, with Manchester City able to control games while also playing a brand of fast and furious attacking soccer in the final third.

Guardiola has shifted his team into a back three in recent weeks with Nathan Ake and Manuel Akanji asked to cover the wide areas when out of possession. John Stones has been pushed into central midfield alongside Rodri to give Kevin de Bruyne and Ilkay Gundogan the freedom to create in moments of transition.

This has prevented Haaland from becoming isolated as Manchester City’s frontman with de Bruyne, Gundogan, Jack Grealish and Riyad Mahrez all linking up with the Norwegian. City have control, but they also have a cutting edge. Rarely has that been the case under Guardiola – see last season when Phil Foden operated as a ‘false nine.’

Manchester City’s Champions League quarter-final first leg victory over Bayern Munich showcased just how complete a team Guardiola has built. Bayern Munich were considered challengers in their own right, but had no answer for a City team that dominated them in every way possible.

In the Premier League, there is significant momentum behind City as they chase down Arsenal at the top of the table. The Gunners have enjoyed an historically successful season to date. They will likely finish with over 90 points, and accrued more points in the first half of the season than in any other season in the club’s history. And yet it still might not be enough to get the better of City.

“Like I said in the previous press conference, it is to win win win,” said Guardiola when asked about his objectives for the season. “They [Arsenal] have had an incredible run so far this season, I don’t think they will drop many points and we have to be in there. It is important for us to arrive at the match by winning today and [it is] a final against them in the next Premier League game.”

Of course, Manchester City’s resources as a club have allowed them to build their current squad. Only Newcastle United can match the defending Premier League champions in this regard and they haven’t had the time to build up their ranks in the same way City have over the last decade-and-a-half.

But City’s success is about more than just money. Guardiola is unmatched in his ability to win league titles (only three times in his entire managerial career has he finished a season without a league title). The consistency his teams are able to achieve over the course of a campaign is unlike anything seen in the sport previously.

Guardiola has built great teams before. His Barcelona team set the zeitgeist for an entire era of European soccer and are still talked about to this day for the way they reshaped tactical understanding of the sport. Bayern Munich were a dominant force in the Bundesliga under the Catalan’s control. Guardiola’s current Manchester City team are doing something just as impressive. 

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