Pep Guardiola is taking a well-deserved break from Manchester City while the majority of his players compete in the Qatar World Cup.
World Cup viewers have been kept up to date on which players have received the most receptions in midfield and defense. Whatever that entails.
FIFA has apparently decided that this is the best way to show viewers around the world how each team is performing, despite the fact that the metric is extremely vague. What it does show, however, is that this World Cup could be one in which statistical success goes beyond goals, assists, and clean sheets.
So it’s interesting to see Manchester City players dominate one specific area of statistical analysis, which points to Pep Guardiola’s broader impact on world football: ball carries.
Guardiola is famed for his ‘tiki-taka’ approach of quick, short, accurate passes to move around the pitch. It’s a generalization that he’s admitted to not being particularly fond of, as it suited his Barcelona squad far more than his Bayern Munich and City teams. For instance, at City, his style is more characterized by slower build-ups with the ball coupled with an intense press as soon as possession is lost.
Under Guardiola, City keeps the ball and waits for an opening to present itself, and is then ruthless in executing their attacks. Key to that is having ball-playing defenders and midfielders who know the right times to find a teammate and the right times to split the lines and quickly change the tempo.
City sent five central defenders to the World Cup, yet six of their players have started at center-back in the group matches so far. John Stones has started three out of three for England, Manuel Akanji has impressed for Switzerland against tough opposition, Ruben Dias has led by example with Portugal, and Nathan Ake has been rewarded for his fine City form with a starting spot on the left of a back three for the Netherlands.
Aymeric Laporte is a starter for Spain and has been partnered by City teammate Rodri as Luis Enrique has preferred Sergio Busquets in midfield. However, the prospect of dropping Rodri hasn’t been an option, so he’s been moved back into defense, and his ability to read the game as well as bring the ball out from the back appears to be working well.
In fact, after the first two rounds of group games had been completed, Opta said that the four players with the most progressive ball carry – to take the ball five or more meters upfield – all came from City defenders.
Ake led the way on 46, followed by Laporte and Akanji on 42. Stones were then level with Hector Moreno and Abdelkarim Hassan on 38. And Stones had made more total carries (73) and progressed the ball further upfield than any other player in the tournament so far (791m). It can’t be a coincidence that all of those players are Guardiola players.
Another Opta stat showed that of central midfielders, no player made more progressive carries (28) or created more chances following a carry (3) than Bernardo Silva, further emphasizing the impact Guardiola is having on the World Cup.
The Catalan might not be in Qatar, but his players are taking what they’ve learned at City into the biggest tournament of the lot. It underlines Guardiola’s insistence that he is not a tiki-taka manager, and shows that he has assembled a squad that knows the right times to play safe and the right times to trigger an attack.
It’s a compliment to him that so many national managers are replicating the tactics to try and win the World Cup.