In his seventh campaign at the helm of Manchester City, it seems that Pep Guardiola is building his most perfect work in the Premier, on his way to his fifth title and to be at the level of Matt Busby, the myth across the street, champion five times with United and the first European Cup winner with an English club. City is aiming for the treble just as its domestic rival did in 1999 under the command of another legend, Sir Alex Ferguson, and it is opposing that triumph from which Real Madrid separates them in the European competition, Arsenal in the Premier and Manchester United in the Cup with a plan in which the conjunction between Kevin de Bruyne and Erling Haaland stands out. “The way we played in past seasons with a false nine was completely different. Now the connection between them is extraordinary and that’s why we try to use it,” acknowledges the Catalan coach.
The exhibition of the duo in the match against Arsenal suggests that their rivals have a problem stopping such exuberance. Guardiola has considered that his transit as Haaland’s coach contributes to Norwegian talent some record more than his ability to leave the ball in the net of the rival goal, which is not little. “I would like to improve his ability to associate with the team,” he explains. In that search he has found Kevin de Bruyne.
It’s Erling Haaland. It’s Don Kevin De Bruyne. Two superlative footballers. An unstoppable society ????
The control is beastly, the definition is a marvel that can decide a title #PremierLeagueDAZN ⚽ ???? pic.twitter.com/YCedgOoV6d
— DAZN Spain (@DAZN_ES) April 26, 2023
The resounding victory against Arsenal, by score and result, warns of a duo that turns Manchester City into a ductile team that not only has the ability to handle itself in small spaces. “We had worked on medium-distance passes and how we could take advantage of them against a defense that was looking for pairings,” explained the Belgian midfielder after the game against the still leader of the Premier. His ability to go into space after Haaland lowered the shipments that came from behind alerts him to the risk of going to overtake a team that handles all kinds of variants.
Because Guardiola begins to become unpredictable. Against Arsenal he surprised with a four-man defense and a double pivot in which he embedded Gündogan in support of Rodri to help him under pressure from the rival. The key, too, was to free the Belgian talent to make it undetectable in aid of Haaland. “If Thomas or Xhaka were going to press up, I had the mission of trying to occupy the space behind them,” says De Bruyne. From that location between the lines he was able to take advantage of Haaland’s drop shots, which he pivoted to unload on his teammate. From that connection the difference was born. “They put a lot of pressure on us and we fixed it by finding Haaland,” defender John Stones described. Few can body with their backs to the goal like the Norwegian striker does. And in that context De Bruyne is lethal as a companion. “He moves very well the more freedom he has and in the second plays,” Guardiola describes.
After the game, Kevin de Bruyne reflected on the importance that Grealish and Bernardo Silva had in stretching the opponent wide and thus creating space inside. “I think it was difficult for the Arsenal center-backs to decide if they had to come with me or with Haaland, we wanted them to jump with me or hesitate,” he explained after the game. But there was more: City worked so that Arsenal did not play inside, so Ruben Dias jumped over Odegaard so that the Norwegian midfielder did not turn around to filter balls, an idea that against Real Madrid he can repeat against Benzema.
In the half, Arteta applied more effective pressure on City’s centre-backs, who had more trouble finding De Bruyne. It happened that in that situation Odegaard, who was already crossed, made a mistake in a simple pass and the third goal came, a new connection between De Bruyne and Haaland, who already with his hair released ended his performance with a new notch on his revolver goal scorer.
“I always put pressure on him because I always think he can do better,” Guardiola says of De Bruyne, who has scored nine goals and 27 decisive passes in an uneven season (seven and 18 in the Premier). But the Belgian always tends to appear when it is necessary to take a step forward. In the last five seasons he has scored 18 goals and 14 assists in the months of April and May. He now he has the best partner nearby for those numbers to fatten. Whoever saw the destruction that Arsenal suffered this Wednesday at the Etihad will think very much about how and in what way they will go to pressure City. Of course if he does he will look in the rearview mirror.
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