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EXCLUSIVE Pep Guardiola's tweaking of tactics and his man-management skills led Man City to Premier League crown

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Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola got the best out of his players with his man-management skills. Photo: Shaun Botterill/PA

Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola got the best out of his players with his man-management skills. Photo: Shaun Botterill/PA

Manchester City's Ilkay Gundogan benefited from the change of tactics by Pep Guardiola. Photo: Jon Super/PA Wire

Manchester City's Ilkay Gundogan benefited from the change of tactics by Pep Guardiola. Photo: Jon Super/PA Wire

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Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola got the best out of his players with his man-management skills. Photo: Shaun Botterill/PA

After they drew at home to West Brom in December, Pep Guardiola came out and said that he didn’t like the team, didn’t like what City had become.

And he started to change it into a side that was more what he wanted. That team has now won the Premier League and also made the Champions League final.

It’s been an incredible season with all the disruption, so to pull that all together and win the league and get to two finals and a semi-final is incredible.

People talk about the tactical side of things, but the work Guardiola does with players on the mental side of the game is amazing. City have 22 world-class players, every one of them would be starters every week if they were at any other club – and he kept them all happy, kept them all focused.

That’s great man-management, you could see when they scored the goals against PSG in the Champions League semi-final, the entire bench were jumping on the players, celebrating with them – and to have that sort of togetherness is half the battle.

If you have a squad that is motivated, where the atmosphere is good, and you add their talent to that, it makes for a very strong combination.

City don’t have that one player who stands out above all others, they have a strong unit and Guardiola has managed that perfectly.

He has always evolved as a coach but what he does well is tweaking little things. There was a point in the season where he was basically getting the players to pass the ball when they were standing still. Before that, they were passing while running at a high tempo, not keeping up that successful pass rate they’d always had.

If you look at John Stones and Ruben Dias, they put their foot on the ball and pass from a standing position, Gundogan does the same. And that increases the accuracy of your pass, it gives your teammates time to move into the right position.

In previous seasons they seemed to play inside the full-backs, for the wingers to get down the line, cut in and cross from there. We didn’t see so much of that this season, it was more a patient build-up, using the width of the pitch.

Not having a centre forward in that situation helped them, it helped Gundogan to get forward and score more goals and helped Kevin De Bruyne get into better positions – and that all complicated things for the opposition.

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Manchester City's Ilkay Gundogan benefited from the change of tactics by Pep Guardiola. Photo: Jon Super/PA Wire

Manchester City's Ilkay Gundogan benefited from the change of tactics by Pep Guardiola. Photo: Jon Super/PA Wire

Manchester City's Ilkay Gundogan benefited from the change of tactics by Pep Guardiola. Photo: Jon Super/PA Wire

So it was a series of tweaks that helped them. I know he’s fortunate to have a good squad, but he kept his players fresh.

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Early on he had played with two holding midfielders, with Fernandinho sitting in beside Rodri, and Gundogan deeper.

But then he went back to what his beliefs were, that 4-3-3 system, as the players were more suited to it. Once the results came back, so did their confidence – and they won the next 21 games.

Every club had a bad patch this season because of how unusual it was, but even in City’s bad spell they only lost twice. They drew a few and they were being criticised for ‘only’ winning 1-0 or 2-1, but they stayed ticking over – and once the did hit top form, no one else could match them.

It will be interesting to see where Guardiola takes City now next season as they have achieved all of this without that elite No 9 - Gabriel Jesus has played there at times, but he’s not at the same level as Aguero at his peak.

So he has to decide if he needs one a striker who can get you 30 goals a season, or if he goes again with the formation they had. City have always done their business well, they don’t get involved in those big-money bids, their record fee paid is £60million, which is not extravagant compared to other Premier League clubs. I don’t see City competing to sign Erling Haaland or Kylian Mbappe, and I can’t see them spending £150m for Kane.

There will be changes, but it’s very difficult to strengthen that squad as it’s so good, that’s evident with the quality on the bench every week. It won’t be easy for City to sign a player who’s going to be good enough to get into that XI.

It also shows how far behind the rest of the chasing pack are. Liverpool will be stronger with the return of their injured players, but on the other hand you’d wonder if Mo Salah and Sadio Mane will regain their top form.

They also need Andy Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold to rediscover their best form, and their midfield needs work. Van Dijk being back will give them a boost, but Liverpool’s problems run deeper than that.

Man United have improved a lot, they finally found the consistency that was missing and winning the Europa League will make this a decent season for them. But they need to find a centre-half somewhere, they need another defensive midfielder.

Chelsea have a really strong squad which doesn’t need a lot of work, if they do need another centre forward they will go out and buy one, so they will be the biggest threat to City for supremacy next year.

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