Pep Guardiola’s latest masterpiece: How Man City won the treble

Pep Guardiola’s latest masterpiece: How Man City won the treble

City finally won the trophy they craved, the Champions League, thanks to the coach’s thirst for innovation and refusal to become complacent

“Champions of Europe, we know what we are”. That was the chant Manchester City fans struck up the moment they had digested their Champions League final victory over Inter. It might not have been the most convincing performance from Pep Guardiola’s side, but in Istanbul they realised what the Catalan coach had repeatedly referred to as a dream.
City have been dreaming of winning the Champions League ever since the 2008 takeover by the Abu Dhabi United group, and even more so since Guardiola became the club’s coach in 2016. It has taken 15 years and more than £2 billion in investment, but City are finally what they have long wanted to be and felt they should be: undisputably the best team in Europe.
Victory on Saturday not only got the Champions League monkey off City’s back, it also saw them become only the second English team to complete a treble of Europe’s biggest prize, the Premier League title and FA Cup. The treble was Manchester United’s pride and joy, but now City have matched that achievement.
GOAL looks back on a truly epic season for City and explains how they won every trophy that mattered, routinely blowing their opponents out of the water in the process…

Erling Haaland Manchester City Manchester United FA Cup final 2022-23Getty

The Haaland factor

Erling Haaland has not only provided an astonishing 52 goals, he has added a new dimension to City. The only real doubt about Guardiola’s side over the previous two seasons was their lack of a proper centre-forward. Indeed, in their 2021 Champions League final loss to Chelsea, they started without a striker.
Guardiola has won several titles without a traditional striker – both with Barcelona and City – but the lack of a monstrous presence in the box did allow teams to sit back against his side and stifle them if they blocked their passing lanes.
Haaland, then, has been a phenomenal focal point, and his unique traits led to City changing their style of play to accommodate him. They have done away with attacking full-backs and played more direct football, often hitting the Norwegian with long balls on the break.
They have also played their usual intricate passing football, and whereas in the past they would have no one to finish off a promising move from close range, now they have the best striker in the world to knock home passes or gobble up second balls, making use of his remarkable reflexes as well as his physical prowess.
City have also accommodated Haaland off the pitch. The Times has reported that the club’s chef’s designed a special diet for the Norwegian, giving him 200 more grams of food than his team-mates and have even imported top-of-the-range salmon at the player’s request.
Haaland has embraced that special status, and talked openly about the fact City brought him to the club to win the Champions League, a competition he has been fascinated with since he was seven years old.


Pep Guardiola Joao Cancelo Manchester City 2022-23Getty

Getting rid of Cancelo and refreshing the squad
Guardiola has never been shy of removing disruptive presences from his teams, having got rid of Ronaldinho and Deco as soon as he joined Barcelona, as well as driving Zlatan Ibrahimovic out of the the club after one campaign.
This season, Joao Cancelo was the player he felt he had to remove. The Portuguese was one of City’s best players over the previous two campaigns, but he did not take being left out of the team well. According to The Times, the Portuguese was said to have “acted like a child” when he was dropped, and even wore headphones during a team talk while sitting on the floor.
Guardiola acted swiftly by sending him on loan to Bayern Munich immediately, even though it risked strengthening a Champions League rival. Indeed, City met Bayern in the quarter-finals, although Cancelo did not start in the first leg, which City won 3-0.
Although there is no suggestion they were disruptive influences, Guardiola also sold Gabriel Jesus, Oleksandr Zinchenko and Raheem Sterling in the summer as they wished to have more regular spots in the team. All three were quality players, but by refreshing the squad he ensured everyone was on the same page.

John Stones Pep Guardiola

Demanding more unity
As well as ensuring he got rid of any bad apples, Guardiola has worked hard to ensure City felt like a team again. Teams who win multiple trophies can often lose their hunger, desire and their sense of togetherness. Guardiola felt that his side were losing their sense of unity and sought to address it.
After City’s 4-2 comeback win against Tottenham in January, he could have praised his players’ fighting spirit, but instead he went on a remarkable tirade, accusing them of being “a happy flowers team”. Then he was sending them a very public message, but he also hammered home his point in private.
According to The Times, Guardiola was disappointed that his players had not stuck up for Rico Lewis when he was fouled time and time again by Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg against Tottenham. He even showed his players an image of the teenager lying on the pitch on his own.
The message eventually seeped through, and his players were no longer shy about taking on opponents off the ball, an example of which came when Phil Foden took on Ben White in the title showdown against Arsenal.

Nathan Ake Manchester City 2022-23

Tactical innovations
Guardiola has made a habit of playing players in new positions throughout his career, and the greatest innovation of this season was deploying John Stones in a hybrid role: One part right-back, another part defensive midfielder.
He has also made natural centre-back Nathan Ake into a left-back, and a darned good one at that, while he has played Manuel Akanji all across the defence to plug various holes. He has played players he trusts in positions they are unfamiliar with, rather than stick with players he no longer trusts.
As well as getting rid of Cancelo, he has been ruthless with Aymeric Laporte, who has barely featured since the 1-1 draw at Nottingham Forest in February. He has played no fewer than six different players at left-back.
“You cannot play the same way for six or seven seasons, for two reasons,” Guardiola explained last month. “First, you have different players. And second, the opponents don’t defend the same way against you, because they know you. They discover the secrets you have. They do a counter-system and you have to create another system, offensively and defensively.”

Pep Guardiola Manchester City

Using Premier League charges as fuel
City’s success this season has been remarkable, but it also comes with an asterix – the 115 charges the Premier League made against them in February for allegedly violating the league’s financial rules. To City’s detractors, the charges, which followed sanctions from UEFA years before for similar reasons, showed that the club felt as if they could do as they pleased. But Guardiola managed to use them to his advantage, painting City as the victims.

It is a role he played while manager of Barcelona, who he liked to say “come from a small country, Catalonia”. Then he was glossing over the fact this his home region was one of the richest in Spain and his club one of the most powerful forces in Spanish football.
With City, he has played down the billions of pounds of investment the club have received from the Abu Dhabi United group, and the fact that his team essentially have the might of a nation state behind them. But it matters not. The charges were announced the day after City lost 1-0 at Tottenham and – discounting their defeat to Brentford on the final day of the league campaign – it was the last game they would lose this season.

rodri manchester city

Outclassing almost everyone
City have not just won every trophy that matters this season. Leaving aside the scrappy nature of the final against Inter – and European finals often tend to be cagey affairs – they have torn their biggest rivals in England and Europe apart.
They thrashed Manchester United 6-3 at the Etihad in October, and then beat their neighbours again in the FA Cup final. The 2-1 scoreline and United hitting the bar late on masked the fact that City had dominated the game and could have put it out of sight in the opening six minutes.
They also thrashed Liverpool, their biggest rivals over the last four years, 4-1 in April. And in the title showdown against Arsenal, who had led the Premier League for the majority of the season, they took the Gunners apart, also winning 4-1.
Even though Arsenal remained top after that match, everyone, Mikel Arteta’s side included, knew that the title race was effectively over and that City would win their games in hand. They ended up clinching their third consecutive crown with three games to spare.
City were even more ruthless in the FA Cup, and Bruno Fernandes’ controversial penalty in the final was the only goal they conceded in six games in the competition, while scoring 19.
But they saved their best performances for the Champions League. They annihilated RB Leipzig 7-0 and then thrashed the mighty Bayern Munich 3-0. Then came Real Madrid, City’s bete noir who had twice beaten them in the semi-finals.
City crushed the aristocrats of European football 4-0 in the second leg at the Etihad Stadium in what Guardiola called his best-ever performance in the Champions League. Now he has the trophy to go with it, providing the finishing touch to his greatest masterpiece.



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