Pep Guardiola: The Striker Killer?

Aguero Guardiola

With the flurry of recent discussion regarding Sergio”Kun”Aguero –  Is Pep Guardiola really the Grim Reaper of world class strikers?

Soccer Surgery examines the impact of Pep’s philosophy on strikers and tries to explain what is going with Kun Aguero.

What is the Pep philosophy?

The high press. As a faithful disciple of the Cruyff way of “total football”, Guardiola expects all players to defend hunting the ball in packs of 2 or 3 pressuring the opponents deep in their half. As most understand therefore the forwards are a key part of that press and require an intelligence and fitness to be part of the system otherwise leaving gaps in midfield and acres of space in behind the back four to be exploited. The weakness of a feeble high press can be seen in the brief video below as a tiring City was punished ruthlessly in the second half by Conte’s Chelsea.

You would notice on the pass that Cesc Fabregas was not being pressed and David Silva rushes out too late to close down the long diagonal to Diego Costa. Also noticeable is the back line is so high that Costa has time to trap, collect, fight off Otamendi and fire beyond the keeper before one City teammate has even stepped into the penalty area to provide help.

So given Guardiola’s reliance on an effective press this has led to a widely bandied talking point.

Guardiola NEVER appreciated strikers…..

Guardiola‘s critics are no doubt pointing to the sales of Samuel Eto, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Mario Mandzukic. All three were respected top class strikers at the time of sale raising universal eye brows. All three not surpringly openly expressed the view that Guardiola disrespected them at their time at the club but the key point is that NONE dispute his place at the top of his profession, including arguably the most aggrieved Samuel Eto.

We are not Guardiola fanboys here so we would point out his abjectly poor man management/interpersonal skills evidenced by the legion of players with unkind things to say. That should not be up for debate. But does he have a negative view of strikers? Footy logic tells us perhaps just lazy ones who lack the mobility, intelligence and willingness to press and move in the final third.

His critics extend the argument a bridge too far suggesting Guardiola could only function with Messi. This is utter nonsense sautéed with a serving of ignorance. One simply has to take the case of Robert Lewandowski in Guardiola’s time at Bayern Munich. The Pole replaced Mandzukic after Guardiola’s first season and went from strength to strength.

2014/15: 17 goals in 28 Bundesliga games; 6 goals in 10 Champions league games

2015/16: 30 goals in 29 Bundesliga games; 9 goals in 11 Champions league games.

This dismantles the feeble talking point Guardiola has no idea how to use “strikers”. As Lewandowski explained in 2016:

Even I was amazed at the amount of progress I made. Technically, I’ve improved enormously — I am confident in different positions, I move more intelligently, without the ball, my defensive skills are sharper and I am much more effective helping others find space.‘He sometimes puts me on the left wing. It’ll never be my favourite position but I still do my job and score goals. Basically, Guardiola has made me a better player.

Ok so is Aguero too lazy or reluctant to press but Jesus will?

If this is the case we have not seen evidence based on the small sample size of games since Jesus wrestled the starting spot. We compared the last two(2) starts for each player per Opta Stats:

Gabriel Jesus [West Ham(A), Swansea (H)]: 0(0) tackles attempted (won), 5 possession recoveries, 2 interceptions

Kun Aguero [Everton(A), Spurs(H)]: 3(2) tackles attempted(won), 10 possession recoveries, 0 interceptions

One would see the point here – nothing jumps out to confirm Jesus as more successful in the press though reports have suggested he does in fact run more per game than Aguero. Also, only Guardiola sees them in training.

So bottom line – is this the end of Aguero at City?

We never in a million years thought it was possible a month ago but Guardiola has again done an awful job of man management here. No player of Aguero’s stature will take such a benching and lackluster media support likely. Could it be that Aguero has not fully recovered from the calf complaint so unable to fulfill the requirements right now? Perhaps. Guardiola would be right to use the players who can give 100% on the field but why protect other players such as Sterling whose form has wavered through the season but levy such a harsh punishment on Aguero? We have no idea.

More practically, if Aguero were to exit in the summer to Real Madrid is Gabigol ready to step into the pressure of filling his boots given all his 19 years on this earth and no previous experience on the larger European stage? Could City find a replacement? We have serious doubts…. which is why we don’t believe this to be Guardiola‘s long term thinking or part of a larger philosophical aversion to strikers as others suggest.

Regardless, If Pep truly believes as he has stated that these two can play together it would appear high time he find the tactical structure or offer a better explanation to the media to save his star man further embarrassment.

 

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