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Pep's outlandish thinking means he has no problem keeping me entertained

Why I'm full of admiration for Guardiola at a time when innovation is so scarce

Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola
1 of 1

Yeah, no problem. The most dangerous three-word sentence in the world after "Vote Donald Trump".

When the previous incumbent of the Thursday column, Bruce Millington, asked if I could guest in this space I answered rather casually: "Yeah, no problem." 

Time and time again "yeah, no problem" is the answer I have given my wife and it's always a problem. Quiet life, quiet wife is all I have ever wanted and "yeah, no problem" only does the trick until it doesn't.

So how am I going to fill 900 words? 

Trump? The government's handling of the coronavirus? Stick to sport. 

Should I offer some advice to Formula One bigwigs that maybe starting with the fastest cars at the front of each race isn't going to provide a thrilling spectacle? Could I come up with a horseracing knockout sprint series competition where Europe's finest equine beasts compete before a final showdown to declare the continent's quickest horse.

Petrolheads and horseheads don't want new things. Stick to football.

The handball law? VAR! 

Could I write some stinging analysis of the weekend results? Oh God, it was the FA Cup. Perhaps I could do 900 words on why the FA Cup is magic, or maybe 900 words on why the FA Cup has lost its magic. How do these football journos have so many opinions? 

Please inject me with some faux outrage or enthusiasm, I've got 900 words to write here.

Maybe I will go through my inspirational new year, new diet, new me. 

The new year started on a Friday and I thought it was best to give myself the weekend to clear out the Christmas temptations. Dry January therefore started on the fourth. And it ended on the fourth. May the fourth be with you. Or something. I wish it was May the fourth.

The announcement of further lockdown restrictions last Monday week to include homeschooling saw me down a few glasses of wine and on Tuesday I had copious amounts of alcohol to celebrate Tottenham's League Cup semi-final victory over Brentford.

Wednesday went better until I ordered McDonald's from Just Eat and I chilled on Thursday - three days earlier in the week than the energetic Craig David. 

However, Ossie Ardiles "liked" my tweet to him asking how his (trembly) knees were feeling after Tottenham's Wembley visit was booked. How many World Cup winners have liked your tweets Craig?

I'll possibly have another crack at a healthier lifestyle in February which feels a good 38 days shorter than January's hell, but it's not going to help me fill this space is it?

Let's stick to football. But what is there to say that's not already been said? 

Innovation is in short supply and as Pep Guardiola quipped when he arrived at Bayern Munich: "People like change, as long as it is exactly the same as it was before."

That's why I am unashamedly in love with Guardiola, obviously apart from when I hope Spurs smash the bald fraud in the League Cup final.

You know exactly how Jurgen Klopp's Liverpool will play, and it's usually brilliant, but it's nearly always the same. That process has made them so successful. Liverpool are a McNugget. It doesn't need improving. 

Guardiola sees things differently and it's not really about whether he is the best but how often Pep manages to blow my brain. 

One time at Barcelona he played with three at the back, a midfield diamond and then three up front. If you were writing the formation down in football style it would be 3-1-2-1-3. Just looking at those numbers brings me out in a cold sweat, reminiscing about a recent maths lesson for my daughter. If we start with 20 McNuggets and eat ten, how can you not know how many are left? What are you, bloody seven? Yes. That's not the point is it? 

Anyway, back to Pep and I have occasionally let my mind wander to imagining he was a rugby coach. How would he cope with set formations? Could he still find a way to use inverted wingers, or maybe a false hooker? Imagine telling him it was a good thing to kick the ball to the opposition. 

For the past few months many observers had noted City needed a new striker. 

Sergio Aguero was injured, while Gabriel Jesus wasn't quite cutting it and, much like a struggling marriage, when the magic stops, one solution is to add a third.

What did Guardiola do? Instead of going down swinging, he opted for no strikers. It sounds defensive but it's great to watch, just like City's new goal kicks.

Pep has got his defenders sometimes taking goal kicks. In the good old days a defender over a goal kick involved a massive punt and he would quickly rush forwards, following the ball.

Now, most teams have their centre-backs in line with the six-yard box to receive the ball anyway and what City have started to do is get the defender, normally more skilled than the keeper, to chip it out wide to an advanced full-back. 

Then when the opposition drop deep expecting more of the same the defender passes it to the keeper (!) and City can play out from the back.

It's brilliantly simple and simply brilliant.

And that's the column idea sorted. I like City's goal-kick routine. 

Can I spin that out for 900 words?

Yeah, no problem.


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You know exactly how Jurgen Klopp's Liverpool will play, and it's usually brilliant, but it's nearly always the same
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