Whatever Pep Guardiola Needs In Defence, Josko Gvardiol Can Do It For Him

The RB Leipzig man is close to an Etihad move
12:00, 05 Aug 2023

Manchester City have reportedly agreed a deal of around £78 million for RB Leipzig defender Josko Gvardiol. The 21-year-old has been tipped for an elite move for a while now and Pep Guardiola’s men have moved quickest to secure the Croatia international’s signature. In a summer in which they have largely kept their counsel, the Cityzens have still managed to do a fine piece of business.

City’s treble win last season was not just remarkable because they became only the second team in history to win the Premier League, Champions League and FA Cup in a single season. It was also noteworthy because it was achieved with no shortage of tactical acrobatics.


In the hands of a lesser manager, some of City’s starting lineups last term would be considered makeshift. But such is Guardiola’s talent for alchemy, his unusual decisions were completely trusted by both his players and City’s fanbase. Switching between a back three and a defensive four, when the former was played the personnel was often surprising. 

John Stones and Rico Lewis, typically defenders, were often used in defensive midfield ahead of a back three. Instead of traditional wing backs, this spare man in midfield would drop back into the back four, allowing the outer centre backs to essentially become full backs. This 3-2-4-1 shape, shifting to a 4-1-4-1 out of possession, saw Lewis enjoy a breakthrough campaign and Stones put in his best ever City displays.

Gvardiol’s arrival could mean various things for this successful strategy. Ever a forward-thinker, Guardiola could be ready to rip up his bold approach now the other clubs have had a season to cotton onto it. Don’t forget, this is a man who was tearing up his tiki-taka blueprint while the rest of the world was still trying to photocopy it. Pep is a scholar, not a zealot. His ideas on football constantly evolve as he concocts new ways to stay ahead of a shifting sport.


This could mean that Guardiola, with the addition of a centre-back he feels could carry the burden, will go to a more typical defensive line. He certainly has the players to do it. You could see Gvardiol slotting into a back four alongside Nathan Ake, either Stones or Manuel Akanji and Kyle Walker or his replacement. With Ruben Dias, Aymeric Laporte, Sergio Gomez and Rico Lewis also able to slot into that back line, Guardiola boasts strength in depth. 

The manager may further explore the unusual shape that netted the three biggest trophies for him. Even then, Gvardiol could be an upgrade on last season’s version of the system. While Leipzig usually line up with a back four, Gvardiol has also played plenty of games as the left centre back in a back three at Red Bull Arena. Given his comfort as a conventional centre back, he would also be a candidate for the central role in a three-man defence.

Given his tender age, just 21 years old, and his Champions League experience, Gvardiol is a signing who ticks many boxes. But most impressive is the fact he fits Guardiola’s tactical requirements like a glove. Whether the City boss reinvents the wheel again or sticks with what worked last term, Gvardiol has a vital role to play. The treble winners may be moving more slowly than usual in this window, but signings like this prove how much care is going into their recruitment.

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