Pep Guardiola exclusive interview: City manager explains those reversed full-backs and why he trusts Rico Lewis | football news

At Tottenham, it was Rico Lewis. Against Aston Villa, Bernardo Silva took over the role. Pre-match charts had them on the left-back, but on the pitch they spent much of the game alongside Rodri in midfield. Why does Pep Guardiola do this?

The Manchester City manager knows that his tactics will be praised, studied and imitated when successful. He also knows that when Lewis is stripped of the ball for the only goal in a 1-0 defeat, he will be accused of “overthinking” once again.

But whether the decision to field players in that hybrid role, alternating between left-back and midfield, is considered correct or not, Guardiola is clearly doing it for a reason. In conversation with him at the club’s training ground, he offers three.

Bernardo Silva's tactile map in Manchester City's 3-1 win over Aston Villa
Bernardo Silva’s tactile map in Manchester City’s 3-1 win over Aston Villa

“Firstly, because of the quality of the players. Secondly, because I like to play with tall and wide wingers. Thirdly, because I am a big fan of short passes, so if you have more players behind you than you can bring to the field.” I half think you play better.

“These are the reasons why,” he says. sky sports.

The brilliant Bernardo was City’s player of the year in 2019, taking the place vacated by the injured Kevin De Bruyne. His rare adaptability means that he may now be asked to take on Joao Cancelo’s responsibilities.

It’s possible because he’s smart enough to know when to ‘cheat’, allowing Guardiola to borrow a player from that back line to provide the extra man in midfield. He can leave the wingers open, keep Erling Haaland up, knowing that Bernardo is there to weave the play.

At Spurs, it was Lewis who moved inside, that so-called fullback reversed in his 3-2-5 formation when he had possession. Guardiola’s assessment was that his simple pass would bring control on the ball and his recovery pace would maintain that control without him.

On that occasion, in a vital game in the Premier League title race, events did not play out that way. But don’t expect the coach to stop believing that this is a young player with all the characteristics – mentally, physically, tactically and technically – to fill the role.

Lewis has been nicknamed ‘the Lancashire Lahm’ because it was Bayern captain Philipp Lahm who was asked by Guardiola to play this way almost a decade ago. The technically solid full-back moved in to build the game for his team.

Although Guardiola points out that the quality of the players is a key element in persuading him to attempt this tactical maneuver, it seems reasonable to assume that Dani Alves would have been capable at Barcelona. Guardiola was slow to arrive at his answer.

“I learned. Because the opponents caused us problems and we have to find solutions.” Teams began to recognize that the holding midfielder for Guardiola’s side needed a lot of attention. Adding a second body there could open up the game.

But Guardiola was reluctant to lose a player later. Instead, he made more sense for a defender to step in. Often teams look to do this with a center back. Manchester City is still trying. Rodri started there alongside John Stones at Chelsea last month.

The problem is that a gap in the middle of the defense can be even more risky than one across. At half time of that game at Stamford Bridge, Guardiola introduced Lewis and tasked him with taking on this role as right-back. That day it worked.

“Each team plays differently,” says Guardiola.

“So I have to adapt. For example, Arsenal do it man-to-man, so the way you attack and defend is completely different to a team defending their 18-yard box with 11 players. Adapting to That is one of the keys to understanding how we have to play”.

Rico Lewis' touch map for Man City at Tottenham
Rico Lewis was tasked with moving between left-back and midfield at Tottenham

Having players who can adapt to situations is essential and the role of full-back turned midfielder is more complicated than most. For example, whether it’s Bernardo or Lewis, they need to anticipate turnovers and when to form a four-man defence.

“Everything depends on the intelligence of the players,” explains Guardiola.

And there are also different types of intelligence.

“Everyone is completely different. There are players with incredible abilities to do something. There are players who are smart when the ball is at their feet and can make incredible decisions. And there are players who are smart to read what’s going on.”

“To read exactly what is happening, to see not only what is happening with my body but to read at every moment exactly what is happening [everywhere else on the pitch], those are the really smart players. The more you have, the easier your life will be.”

Neville: Pep makes a point over the left-backs

Gary Neville speaking to Sky Sports:

“It’s almost like he [Pep Guardiola] It is a point, that you have not signed me as a left back. Obviously [Oleksandr] Zinchenko was allowed to leave and now plays without a left back.

“I can’t think I’m going to go to Arsenal on Wednesday, with [Bukayo] Saka playing on that right wing, and I wouldn’t play someone there. He’s going to have to deal with that at some point this season, but he’s certainly not comfortable right now.

“I had Bernardo Silva going out there [at home to Aston Villa] and I think that takes away the balance and the accumulation. He said he played faster in midfield and I think sometimes they played faster up front, but I still think the fluidity that they would normally have isn’t there yet.”

What no one, not even Guardiola, could have predicted before the start of the season, is that he would come to see the teenager Lewis as one of that rare breed. He was a promising prospect at a top-class academy, but there seemed to be a long way to go.

Lewis had minutes in pre-season friendlies, but also Liam Delap, James McAtee, Josh Wilson-Ebrand and the Brazilian Kayky. His first four competitive appearances of the season came as a substitute, and only once were City up by at least four goals.

But a Champions League goal on full debut against Sevilla followed by a strong performance in the Carabao Cup earned him the manager’s confidence and after the World Cup he found himself ahead of the acclaimed Cancelo, much to the chagrin of the Portuguese.

“Who would say? I didn’t. I didn’t expect in this part of the season that Rico in three, four or five games -important games- would be playing all the time. No. He was in the second team and he arrived in the summer tour because there is to put in another player and he came.

“He convinced me.”

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Much of the attention has focused on the off-field explanations for the shift in the hierarchy of full-back positions. It’s clear Guardiola has been impressed with the youngster’s superior body language and obvious appetite. He came to believe that he should refresh it.

But Lewis’s tactical acumen has also been a factor.

“With Rico I don’t have to say many things but he reads it. Read when to jump and when to wait, how he jumps when he looks at center back, always closing the gap on center back. He is a guy. that he always plays well in small spaces.

“I didn’t teach him that. It comes from him.” In part, it is innate. But it’s also that he learns fast. “Of course you also have to correct, you have to improve, he is 18 years old, but there are players with whom you have to spend more time,” adds Guardiola.

“They might be good in one department, but you end up thinking, ‘Maybe I was wrong to ask him to do that.’ After a while you realize you can’t do it. It is a process. Players arrive, we achieve something, you take them down. It’s an ongoing process.”

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It’s fascinating to think that this process could include more players like Bury-born Lewis, who was an eight-year-old in City’s youth academy when Guardiola started working with Lahm in Munich and just 11 when the Catalan coach arrived. in Manchester.

The role he is expected to fill is certainly demanding and remains alien to much of the audience. But in another sense, he was prepared for it. “The quarry plays with the same style that we play in the first team,” says Guardiola.

“The coach of the Sub8 or Sub12 or Sub23 has to do whatever he wants. He has his own details about him. But the concept, the hiring, the players we are looking for, is always with the same idea of ​​adapting. to the positions we want to play.

“When Rico came here, he came with a lot of things learned from the academy. Sure, we had to introduce a few things. Rudolf [Borrell]Enzo [Maresca]Carlos [Vicens], all the people here – we try to help you. That is the reason we are here.

“But the fact that he’s already played games since he was eight years old is the best investment we can make for the club. If we went on the market now, how much would it cost to get Phil Foden? I think it would be a lot.” of money, this is the best for the academy.

“It’s the same with Rico Lewis. It can happen.”

Guardiola will continue giving tactical surprises. “Sometimes I’ve played with open wings and I’m going to play with open wings again, that’s not a problem.” But his faith in his ideas, his faith in Lewis, is unshakable. The reverse side is here to stay.

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