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Guardiola’s tactical flexibility has allowed him to succeed in multiple leagues

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In the wake of his brutal defeat to Liverpool in the first leg of their Champions League quarterfinal matchup, plenty has been written about Pep Guardiola‘s tactics and selection. The Spaniard has failed to hoist the Champions League trophy since 2011 with Barcelona, and hasn’t even brought a team to the finals since departing La Liga.

But despite his European ups and downs, there is no contesting Guardiola’s league success. Since signing on to lead Barcelona in 2008, he will secure a seventh league title in his 10 years in charge in La Liga, the Bundesliga, and the Premier League. That is a mind-bogglingly dominant run.

His squad tinkering has taken flak in European play when margins are slim, but across a full season of league play, Guardiola’s ability to not just boost his squad depth but use it to perfection is spectacular. However, most importantly, Guardiola’s tactical flexibility has seen him deploy his players in various roles while still putting them in good positions to utilize their best qualities and minimize their weaknesses.

[ MORE: How does this MCFC team compare to Guardiola’s past? ]

Starting at Barcelona, Guardiola popularized the tiki-taka style of play, dominating possession and forcing the opponent to take risks or be slowly choked to death. Still today, there are elements of that in his tactical setup at Manchester City, but his stop at Bayern forced him to change his style, the beginning of his flexibility.

In Germany, Guardiola tweaked his Barcelona tiki-taka tactics that featured bombing full-backs and a single holding midfielder in Sergio Busquets. The Spanish team filtered the ball out wide and then pinched back in with inverted wingers, a formula many fans now know well. However, in his first year at Bayern, that changed over the course of his first Bundesliga campaign, with his full-backs instead pinching early and often acting as quasi-midfielders. This often saw his wingers Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery alone on the touchline, sacrificing width but controlling the center of the field, a new way to choke out opponents.

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A central switch was particularly useful when midfield players like Thiago Alcantara and Bastian Schweinsteiger missed significant time due to injury, but it also allowed players like Thomas Muller and Mario Gotze to focus less on retaining possession in the final third and more on deadlier off-ball movement, something the top German attackers have perfected in the last decade.

Over the years at Bayern, he continued to deploy this strategy successfully thanks in part to the versatility of Philip Lahm and David Alaba. Now at Manchester City, things have again adapted to his squad. While he has returned to overlapping full-backs and a single holding midfielder, he has often asked his #8 (Kevin De Bruyne or Ilkay Gundogan) to drop significantly deeper, especially against pressing teams. While this ultimately failed against Liverpool in the Champions League a few days ago, it had seen success against Liverpool earlier in the season in the 5-0 win, plus the 4-1 victory over Tottenham where they suffocated Spurs.

To help break a press, City has gone to a vertical passing strategy not seen in the Guardiola tiki-taka style of old. For example, in the Tottenham win, Sergio Aguero was seen often receiving passes up the middle near the midway line (or even before it) where he then would lay back off to a central midfielder or winger. Seven of Aguero’s 10 completed passes in that game went backwards or square into the middle third of the pitch. This can cause havoc in the central areas, seemingly bypassing the midfield, creating space for the CM to then burst forward on the ball, ultimately forcing the opposing center-backs to stop the push and allowing the striker to sneak in behind.

This stop-start method of squeezing through the center of the pitch proves Pep’s ability to adapt in league play. While it still has yet to translate to European play – with Pep’s confidence in his squad depth potentially detrimental in a tournament with small space for error – it has led him to league success unlike any other manager over the last decade. With Manchester City on the cusp of one of the most dominant runs in Premier League history, his mastery of the competitive English top flight in such a short time is truly impressive.

MLS at Week 8: Galaxy host Atlanta, NYCFC aims to stay unbeaten out west

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A full weekend of MLS action kicks off on Friday night with two of the Western Conference’s elite, while Saturday and Sunday feature a number of quality matchups.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic and the LA Galaxy have been quite the attraction since the Swede made his move to MLS a few weeks ago, but Sigi Schmid’s side will be in for another early-season test on Saturday when they take on a red-hot Atlanta United.

[ MORE: Sweden not keen on Zlatan’s World Cup return ]

Both sides currently sit in second place in their respective conferences, while Atlanta boasts the second-highest goalscoring total in the league to this point, with 15 goals in six games.

Western Conference leaders Sporting KC have gone unbeaten in their last six matches since their opening day defeat to New York City FC, and Matt Besler and Co. will have another opportunity to put their stamp on the conference with a crucial match against the Vancouver Whitecaps, who sit third in the West.

NYCFC and FC Dallas remain on the only two unbeaten clubs left in 2018, although the latter has been far less convincing in its first five matches.

Patrick Vieira and NYCFC are coming off of a hard-fought 2-2 draw against Atlanta last weekend, and now head west to take on the Portland Timbers.

Meanwhile, Dallas plays host to the Philadelphia Union, who have taken just one win out of their first five games.

Here’s a look at the full slate of matches around MLS in Week 8.

Friday

Sporting KC vs. Vancouver Whitecaps — 9 p.m. ET

Saturday

Montreal Impact vs. Los Angeles FC — 1 p.m. ET
Houston Dynamo vs. Toronto FC — 3 p.m. ET
New York Red Bulls vs. Chicago Fire — 3:30 p.m. ET
Columbus Crew vs. New England Revolution — 7:30 p.m. ET
Orlando City vs. San Jose Earthquakes — 7:30 p.m. ET
FC Dallas vs. Philadelphia Union — 8 p.m. ET
Real Salt Lake vs. Colorado Rapids — 9 p.m. ET
LA Galaxy vs. Atlanta United — 10:30 p.m. ET

Sunday

Seattle Sounders vs. Minnesota United — 4 p.m. ET
Portland Timbers vs. New York City FC — 6 p.m. ET

Atletico defeat leaves Barcelona 1 win from title

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MADRID (AP) Atletico Madrid lost 3-0 at Real Sociedad on Thursday, leaving Barcelona one victory away from clinching the Spanish league title.

Barcelona, which drew 2-2 at Celta Vigo on Tuesday without most of its regular starters, can secure its 25th crown at Deportivo La Coruna on April 29.

[ MORE: Chelsea tops Burnley, trails Spurs by five points in UCL race ]

The Catalan club faces Sevilla in the Copa del Rey final on Saturday.

Barcelona has a 12-point lead over Atletico, with five matches left, and is 15 in front of third-place Real Madrid, which needed a late goal by Cristiano Ronaldo to draw 1-1 with Athletic Bilbao on Wednesday.

Another loss for Atletico on Sunday against Real Betis would leave Diego Simeone’s team out of contention for the title because Barcelona holds the head-to-head advantage between the clubs.

Willian Jose shot Sociedad ahead in the 27th minute at the Anoeta Stadium. Juanmi Jimenez made it 2-0 in the 80th after a perfect backheel from Jose before Jimenez scored again with an injury-time header.

It was a third straight win for Sociedad, which stayed 11th in the standings. Atletico hadn’t lost in three consecutive league matches.

GIRONA WINS

Girona ended a four-match winless streak with a 2-1 victory at Alaves, staying in contention for a Europa League spot next season.

Aleix Garcia opened the scoring for Girona in the 59th minute and Cristhian Stuani added a penalty in the 86th, moving the team within one point of seventh-place Sevilla.

Tomas Pina struck in the 90th minute for Alaves, which is 15th.

More AP Spanish soccer coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/LaLiga

Tales Azzoni on Twitter: http://twitter.com/tazzoni

Leicester 0-0 Southampton: Saints lose chance to gain relegation ground

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Leicester City and Southampton finished scoreless at the King Power Stadium on Thursday, as the latter failed to pick up three critical points in a heated Premier League relegation race.

The best opportunity on the day likely came in the second half when Marc Albrighton‘s brilliant volley was deflected over the crossbar by Saints keeper Alex McCarthy.

[ MORE: Chelsea tops Burnley with Moses’ second-half strike ]

Southampton boasted many of its regulars as they prepare to stave off being dropped down to the Championship next season, although Mark Hughes‘ side features in a big FA Cup semifinals clash over the weekend against Chelsea.

Chances were at a minimum in the opening stanza, with Leicester the more dominant of the two sides in attack, although it didn’t amount to much on their various counterattacking opportunities.

Kelechi Iheanacho threatened early on for the Foxes, coming close in the 15th minute with a strike that narrowly missed the far corner. This came briefly after he followed up on his own blocked attempt moments prior.

The Saints now sit four points behind 17th place Swansea City, while Leicester remains in eighth place — trailing Arsenal and the top six by 10 points.

Burnley 1-2 Chelsea: Moses rescues Blues all three points

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With four matches remaining in the Premier League season, Antonio Conte‘s side has everything to play for in the final weeks of the campaign.

[ MORE: Leicester, Southampton finish scoreless at King Power Stadium ]

Chelsea picked up a come-from-behind 2-1 win against Burnley on Thursday afternoon at the Turf Moor behind Victor Moses‘ second-half finish.

Moses was active throughout the match for Chelsea, playing a hand in both goals.

Ashley Barnes pulled a goal back for the Clarets in the 64th minute, but it wasn’t enough for the seventh place side to steal points off the Blues for the second time in 2017/18.

Alvaro Morata’s struggles continued on the day, as the Spanish international had a quality breakaway chance to seal the game early in the second half, but put his right-footed attempt wide of the goal.

The Blues went in front in the 20th minute after Burnley defender Kevin Long put the ball into his own net off of a dangerous cross from Victor Moses on the righthand side of the box.

Olivier Giroud made heavy claims for a penalty in the eighth minute, when the striker went to ground after having been contacted by Long.

The Frenchman started the match paired with Alvaro Morata up front as Antonio Conte looked to rest Eden Hazard and Willian ahead of this weekend’s FA Cup semifinal against Southampton.

The victory for the Blues puts Conte and Co. within five points of Spurs with four matches remaining in the PL campaign. Tottenham currently occupies the fourth Champions League position in England’s top flight.