IT MAY have taken him a while, but Pep Guardiola is finally getting through to his Manchester City squad.
His multi-millionaire stars are left in no doubt what is expected of them in detailed schedules that arrive in their inboxes every week.
And that has been one of the biggest differences from last year.
The Spanish boss said: “What we have done good this season is a consequence of what we did last season.
“There are many good things but we cannot expect to always play that way. We work on the principles of what we believe.
“But it is a question of time. More energy as well, of course, energy from Kyle, from many players. We know each other better.”
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At this point last season, City were losing ground in the title race and Guardiola invited ridicule by admitting he ‘doesn’t train tackles’.
His training methods are now working like a well-oiled machine. Defensive mistakes have been cut out and players have improved.
Leroy Sane and Raheem Sterling have benefited most. And with Sergio Aguero and Gabriel Jesus scoring for fun, it could mean City ending up with FOUR forwards smashing through the 20-goal barrier this season.
Fabian Delph has been reborn at left-back and new signings have improved the depth of the squad.
Here is what Guardiola has done to spark talk of going unbeaten and matching Arsenal’s Invincibles.
Guardiola gives players their schedule for training and team meetings on a week-by-week basis. Compare that to other Premier League clubs who can set their timings a month in advance.
It gives staff flexibility to tailor sessions to the amount of matches, with December seeing them play a whopping nine games in 28 days, as they are still in the EFL Cup and complete the Champions League group stage.
Former Barcelona and Bayern Munich chief Guardiola added: “If you are comparing us to last season, October-November was the problem. We played four Premier League games, three at home and one away. We were able to win only once and did not win against Southampton, Boro and Everton.
“This season we had Burnley, Stoke and Arsenal and we were able to win.”
City’s players have been under big pressure this season to perform. The squad was told in no uncertain terms that finishing 15 points behind Chelsea last season was not good enough.
Established players are also being kept on their toes by seeing academy lads training with the first team. Phil Foden has made the headlines but Rabbi Matondo, signed from Cardiff, has also been asked to join in with seniors.
PEP’S NEW INSTRUCTIONS
The 46-year-old will never ditch his principles, according to those close to him. But there has been a subtle change in the way City have played the ball out of defence.
Ilkay Gundogan said: “It feels like we have changed our game a little bit, especially with our build-up.
“With our back to our opponent we don’t turn blind, just give the pass to our team-mate in a better position. We always want the game in front of us.”
Guardiola drills his players with ‘third-man’ runs, where two players draw defenders out and a third team-mate moves into space.
Gundogan added: “We’re not making mistakes at the back. Last season we conceded a lot of goals from stupid mistakes.”
Brazilian goalkeeper Ederson, or Eddie as his team-mates call him, has been a key signing for Guardiola.
His speed out of the area gets City out of trouble, along with his massive kicking. At £34.9million he looks a bargain.
Gundogan said: “We are doing that really well at the moment and it starts from our goalkeeper, Eddie, through to the centre-backs, holding midfielders, central midfielders and strikers.”
Against Feyenoord in midweek, Nicolas Otamendi received the most passes during the match, collecting the ball 108 times. He was followed by fellow defenders Danilo (100), Eliaquim Mangala (90) and Walker (78).
Guardiola’s methods have not been radically different to last season but players have had a year to get used to them. The squad needed to learn a new way of playing — unlike the side Guardiola inherited at Barcelona.
He said: “Most of the players at Barca were from the academy and the principles they knew they had learned from ten, 11 years old. So a lot of the players already there knew exactly what we were looking for.”
In his first summer, Guardiola had players returning from the Euros and was shaping his squad later, with Sane, John Stones and Claudio Bravo arriving in August. This season, City got their business done by July 24. He has had more time with his squad than his title rivals.
OFF THE PITCH
Guardiola wants his players living the right way, eating correctly and getting eight hours sleep a night.
Some players get their kip at the Etihad Campus after games instead of going out on the town to celebrate.
Since they will be reporting back at 9am the morning after matches for a ‘cool down’, getting rest on site can be easier than driving home. One first-team player described the Campus food as “on a par with any restaurant in Manchester”.
Players refer to the Campus as the ‘hotel’ as it has all the facilities minus the tourists.
Guardiola gets his players to stay before some home games, normally if it is a daytime kick-off. That makes it easier to have a training session before the match.
As revealed by SunSport, Guardiola also likes to play Oasis in the dressing room. They haven’t looked back in anger from a year ago.