Johannesburg - A major question to be asked ahead of the 2018/19 season is how do Manchester United, Tottenham Hotspur, Liverpool, Chelsea and Arsenal close the massive gap on English Premier League (EPL) champions Manchester City?
City’s season wasn’t just record-breaking, it was perhaps unprecedented in English football.
Perhaps the most ground-breaking of the numbers is that the Citizens enjoyed more than 66% possession in away games.
This represents a paradigm shift in thinking in that the traditional adage was that, in English football, the best teams combined were a joy to watch at home, with a capacity to scrap and get results in tough circumstances away.
Arsenal’s “Invincibles” of 2003/04 were a team ahead of their time by playing a continental style, but even they had Patrick Vieira, Sol Campbell and Kolo Touré to act as enforcers when a passing game away from Highbury wasn’t working.
When you recall that 2016/17 champions Chelsea averaged around 50% away from Stamford Bridge, it underlines how pioneering Pep Guardiola’s “juego de posicion” (positional play) philosophy has been.
The records speak for themselves – 32 wins, 100 points and 106 goals as Leroy Sané, Kevin De Bruyne, Raheem Sterling, Sergio Agüero and David Silva ran riot.
Indeed, the Citizens’ record against the wealthy top six saw only two defeats in 10 league matches, which came against Man United and Liverpool.
The 3-2 loss to the Red Devils came when the title was secured and, in April’s encounter they missed some big chances to go into a healthy half-time lead.
Yet, it is perhaps the three defeats in a row (once in the EPL and twice in the Champions League) to Jürgen Klopp’s Reds that the rest of the EPL can learn from. It is a lesson that ferocious “gegenpressing” (uncountable – the strategy of winning the ball back as soon as it has been lost) combined with ambitious high speed attacking football can completely disrupt “juego de posicion”.
In fact, Klopp once said that sitting back against City was like hoping to win the lottery – you have to attack them and expose their one weakness, which is the defence.
This is something that Spurs, United, the Blues and the Gunners could think about next season.
Meanwhile, there has been a significant changing of the guard at Arsenal with Unai Emery replacing Arsène Wenger after 828 games as boss. He is expected to bring a toughness and fighting spirit that Wenger lacked in his later years.
During his time with Sevilla, Emery was a perennial overachiever with a hat trick of Europa League wins playing an aggressive pressing style, combined with a fast-paced blend of attacking football. With a talented squad at his disposal, led by Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang in attack, there may be a new cat among the pigeons.
For the promoted sides from the Championship replacing the relegated Swansea City, Stoke City and West Bromwich Albion, the message is clear: survival in the top flight means that collecting points at home is imperative. – TEAMtalk Media