False nine was Guardiola’s secret weapon, now it’s unstoppable

Soccer Football - Premier League - Manchester City v Chelsea - Etihad Stadium, Manchester, Britain - May 8, 2021 Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola Pool via REUTERS/Martin Rickett /File Photo

Even the best players in the world have not been spared Pep Guardiola’s attacking tactical innovations.

“I was called up to Guardiola’s office and he said he had thought about me playing as a false nine,” Barcelona’s Lionel Messi said last year.

“He was going to put Samuel Eto’o and Thierry Henry on the outside, and I was going to play as the false centre forward.”

The game in question was in 2009, as Barcelona, en route to winning the treble under Guardiola, put on an exhilarating display of attacking football with this new system, hammering arch-rivals Real Madrid 6-2 at the Bernabeu stadium.

Guardiola was not the first coach to utilise the ‘false nine’ approach, with a striker operating in a deeper role to link up play, but his own love affair with the system was born.

The Spaniard usually kept a false nine set-up up his sleeve as a last-minute curve ball to bamboozle the opposition. However, at Manchester City this season, it has become less a secret weapon, more an unstoppable one.

As City romped to a third Premier League title under Guardiola 10 of their 72 goals have been scored by recognised forwards – eight for Gabriel Jesus, two for Sergio Aguero.

Argentine Aguero, City’s all-time top scorer, and Brazilian Jesus have just 25 league starts between them this season, as Guardiola has prioritised his false nine plan.

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