Pep adamant that City couldn’t be further from a dirty team
PEP GUARDIOLA has launched an impassioned defence of his tactics and footballing philosophy after Gary Neville accused Manchester City of getting away with a high number of technical fouls. José Mourinho made a similar point last season but, working as a pundit when City beat Tottenham at Wembley on Monday, Neville suggested Guardiola’s players were clever at the sort of innocuous foul that stops the game and prevents opponents breaking quickly. He did not go as far as to suggest City players were acting under instructions to play cynically, but he noted they were good at pushing the boundaries of what is permissible in defensive situations.
“I do not agree with that at all,” the City manager said. “We are not a team that goes looking for these type of situations and I would never ask my players to deliberately foul an opponent. That never happened at Barcelona or Bayern Munich and it will never happen here.
“It is not a secret that when we lose the ball we like to win it back quickly and if you watch us play you can see that when the opponents have the ball we are going to push them and press them to try and regain possession. As Gary Neville knows very well, opponents are not going to stand still and let you do that, they are going to try to play too, so sometimes there will be contacts and sometimes you arrive late.
“I do not say we are perfect, we do commit fouls, and on a pitch like the one Spurs had at Wembley there might be more contact than normal but I don’t think anyone can say we are a team that commits a lot of fouls.”
Guardiola believes statistics would back him up in that respect and not just the foul counts but the possession breakdown. “You regularly see us having about 60 per cent or 70 per cent of possession, because we are a side that likes to keep hold of the ball,” he said. “When you do that you are not going to be using that time to make fouls on opponents, it is impossible. Why would you kick players when you have the ball? We would have to be kicking ourselves.
“I can assure you, never in my life have I asked my players to use fouls to stop opponents. What I do ask them to do is keep a high line, to keep the ball as far away from our goal as possible, and to run back into position quickly when the ball is lost. The guy who doesn’t run to support or cover his mate has no chance with me. We don’t always get it right and we have fouls given against us like everyone else but the referee is there to rule on what is acceptable.”
City’s defensive system certainly appears to be working. A free-scoring attack won most of the plaudits in last season’s record-breaking title campaign but this time Guardiola seems to have fine-tuned the defence. Only three goals have been conceded in 10 league games and City go into today’s home game against Southampton hoping to keep a seventh consecutive clean sheet.
“I don’t want to sound arrogant but in the season I was at Barcelona and Bayern Munich we were always the team that conceded least,” Guardiola said. “The clean sheets are of course important and we have had many already but what shows our defensive stability best is how few chances we have been allowing opponents.
“We always believe in defending as far up the pitch as possible and that is not just down to the back four or five but everybody in the team. Everyone makes a big effort to defend well, even the strikers in modern football.
“All the big clubs now have quality strikers who can score goals but also fight for the ball. The days are long gone when strikers would wait for the ball to come to them but have a coffee when the opponents are in possession. Nowadays everybody fights.”
Guardiola is not known as a defence-minded coach, quite the opposite, though rather surprisingly he maintains he puts more thought into that area than any other.
“Over the last 10 years I was always concerned and focused on defending well, maybe more than any other thing,” he said.
“To attack well you need a good defence, that’s why I made John Stones and Aymeric Laporte the main targets when I arrived. I knew Laporte from Spain and I was impressed with the personality Stones showed when playing for Everton. The idea now is to keep those two together long-term.
“Look back over the last 20 years and you tend to find that the team that scores the most goals usually concedes the least. It’s a balance that you should aim for. If you score a lot of goals and concede a lot of goals you are not a stable team.”
John Stones (right) tussles with Harry Kane at Wembley during the week. The England defender is key part of Pep Guardiola’s long-term plans for Manchester City