Guardiola rarely deviates from the 1-4-3-3 formation, but Pep uses this shape as a basis for his team’s starting positions only. Guardiola’s Manchester City are a classic example of a positional play system.
When they are on the ball they move to different areas, so the 1-4-3-3 becomes nothing more than a starting point for play development.
Although the constant rotation allows the players to move constantly between zones, the movement and activity of the central offensive midfielder (De Bruyne) is crucial to the way the action will follow. Descending into the right half-space creates overloads there and encourages lower-positioned central midfielders (Rodri, Gundogan, Silva) to go forward. Overloads on the wings allow access to favoured passing angles through the rivals’ defence, which usually ends with either a shot or a final pass.
An important element of Guardiola’s tactics is… who sits on the bench (sic!). Usually Guardiola chooses one more traditional central defender (Stones, Ake) positioning him to one side. Then the side defender on the opposite side (Cancelo or Lewis respectively) is given the task of going behind the opponent’s first line of pressure.
City like to construct their positional attacks based on a 3-2 set-up with one of the side defenders then going down the centre to form a back three, while the other moves higher up, all the way behind the first line of pressure, where he and the defensive midfielder (Rodri) form a temporary double-pivot. This allows them to play through the middle with short passes in close contact with their higher positioned partners.
In the offensive third City use wide triangles with constant rotation in these positions and underlapping, which usually leads to the release of one of the rotating players. If Guardiola’s team thus gets into the half-space between the opposing defenders, the offensive players (Mahrez, Foden, Grealish, Silva) get a freedom to take individual action.
In defence Manchester City position themselves high but narrow with plenty of space left on the flanks, consciously encouraging the opponent to go down the flanks, which on the one hand limits the options for play and results in an immediate change of direction in pressing on the other and overloading the zone the opponent has chosen.