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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.

[ STREAM: Man City v Man United ] 

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.

6 clubs fined, risk FIFA transfer bans for debts to players

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ZURICH (AP) Clubs from Russia and Qatar are among six fined by FIFA and warned they risk one-year transfer bans for failing to settle debts to players.

[ MORE: Steffen to England? ]

FIFA says the clubs also face deductions of six league points if they fail to pay the debts in 30 to 90 days.

The clubs are: Kuban of Russia; Al Arabi and Al Kharaitiyat of Qatar; Zamalek of Egypt; Al Jazira of the United Arab Emirates; and Mersin Idman Yurdu of Turkey.

FIFA says all failed to comply with rulings by FIFA or the Court of Arbitration for Sport “to pay significant overdue amounts of money to players.”

They were fined between 15,000 and 30,000 Swiss francs ($15,000 and $30,000).

FIFA says national soccer federations face disciplinary cases if they fail to enforce the verdicts.

Premier League friendlies: Liverpool meets BVB; Everton in Portugal

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The Premier League is three weeks and one day from opening its 2018-19 slate, when Leicester City will visit Old Trafford for a Friday afternoon match with Manchester United.

The end of the World Cup has eyeballs trained on friendlies, with 19 Premier League teams doing work over the weekend.

[ MORE: Transfer rumor roundup ]

The International Champions Cup has a pair of matches on the docket.

Friday sees Pep Guardiola and Manchester City, sans many of their World Cup stars, mixing it up with Christian Pulisic and Borussia Dortmund in Chicago.

Then Sunday will see Borussia Dortmund switching gears and time zones, tangling with Liverpool in North Carolina as Pulisic renews acquaintances with old pal Jurgen Klopp.

Manchester United takes on San Jose on Sunday, two days after facing Club America.

Other marquee friendlies of the weekend include Bournemouth facing American back Shaq Moore and Levante on Friday, with Fulham hosting Lyon on Saturday, and Everton meeting Lille and Porto on consecutive Portuguese days Saturday and Sunday.

Friday

Bournemouth vs. Levante
Burnley vs. Macclesfield Town
Burnley vs. Curzon Ashton
Cardiff City vs Torquay
Manchester City vs. Borussia Dortmund (in Chicago)

Saturday

Brighton and Hove Albion vs. AFC Wimbledon
Crystal Palace vs. Oxford United
Everton vs. Lille
Fulham vs. Lyon
Huddersfield Town vs. Real Betis
Huddersfield Town vs. Roy-Weiss Essen or Werder Bremen
Leicester City vs. Notts County
Southampton vs. Derby County
Watford vs. Fortuna Dusseldorf
West Ham United vs. Preston North End

Sunday

Everton vs. Porto
Huddersfield Town vs. Darmstadt
Liverpool vs. Borussia Dortmund (in North Carolina)
Manchester United vs. San Jose Earthquakes (in Santa Clara)
Wolverhampton vs. TBD

Transfer rumor roundup: Japan, South Africa strikers to Premier League

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Percy Tau’s name isn’t yet widely known outside of South Africa, what with Bafana Bafana absent from the World Cup.

But the 24-year-old Mamelodi Sundowns winger may soon get to test his skills on a much bigger stage.

[ USMNT: More accolades for Pulisic ]

Tau, who has five goals in 12 caps, will reportedly join Brighton and Hove Albion in the Premier League if a medical goes well, with Sky Sports saying it’ll will be the biggest transfer fee yet for a South African Premier League player.


Yoshinori Muto could be bringing his 25 caps to the Premier League.

The 26-year-old striker made just one appearance at the World Cup, but has had a nice run with Mainz since joining from FC Tokyo. He’s bagged 23 goals in 71 appearances.

Bild report says there have been no formal offers for Muto, but that Newcastle United and West Ham are interested in the striker. Newcastle badly needs a striker, but West Ham has been spending money and Magpies owner Mike Ashley hasn’t green lit much in recent seasons.

Open Cup draw postponed as Portland protests LAFC win

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The Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup draw is not going as planned, as the Portland Timbers protest the roster of victorious LAFC.

[ RECAP: Four USOC semifinalists minted ]

Philadelphia, Chicago, and Houston were the other sides to get a place in the final four teams.

LAFC’s victory had already been marred by Adama Diomande‘s claims of a racial slur hurled his way, and now their victory may be in question altogether as U.S. Soccer issued a press release saying Thursday’s scheduled draw was postponed.

From a U.S. Soccer press release:

The decision comes as a result of a protest filed by the Portland Timbers in relation to the number of foreign players fielded by Los Angeles Football Club during Wednesday night’s Quarterfinal at Banc of America Stadium in Los Angeles, Calif.

The rule says a maximum five players without green cards can be in the 18. Portland started only two Americans, Jeff Attinella and Zarek Valentin, but have green cards for many others and rules are rules.

Will the Timbers take a semifinal berth via protest?