Pep Guardiola is likely to revert to a more conventional back four for Manchester City’s huge Premier League showdown against Arsenal on Wednesday, says Gary Neville on the latest episode of The Gary Neville Podcast.
Guardiola has often deployed inverted full-backs during his managerial career and has continued to do since the World Cup(man city), with Rico Lewis often asked to play as a midfielder when Man City are in possession before reverting to his regular role on the right or left of the defence when the opponents take the ball.
Bernardo Silva – a player who has often lined up in Man City’s attack during his time at the Etihad – took on the inverted full-back role on Sunday, with Guardiola’s idea paying dividends as his side beat Aston Villa 3-1.
“I felt he would settle down, but he’s still changing his back four around and I think it’ll change again on Wednesday,” said Neville.
“Bernardo Silva for me always seems to feel like he’s in his (Guardiola’s) best XI – he’s a brilliant player – but I like (Ilkay) Gundogan, (Kevin) De Bruyne and Rodri, [who] gives them that sort of balance in midfield. So where does Silva play – in one of the wide front areas?
“I don’t see how he can’t go with (Nathan) Ake as a left-back or Rico Lewis with a more conventional back four.”
Speaking to Sky Sports following Man City’s win over Villa, Neville added: “It’s almost as if he (Guardiola) is making a point, that you haven’t signed me a left-back. Obviously (Oleksandr) Zinchenko was allowed to leave and he’s playing now without a left-back.
“I can’t think he’s going to go to Arsenal on Wednesday, with Saka playing on that right wing, and not play someone there. He’s going to have to deal with it at some point during the season, but he’s certainly not comfortable at this moment in time.
“He had Silva going out there [against Villa] and I think that does take away from the balance and the build-up. He’s said about playing quicker through midfield and I do think they played quicker to the front at times, but I still think the fluidity they would ordinarily have isn’t there yet.”
In an exclusive interview with Sky Sports, Pep Guardiola explains those inverted full-backs and trusting a teenager to take on such a complex role.
‘Man City can damage Arsenal’
Man City have won on their last three visits to the Emirates and will go top of the Premier League if they beat Arsenal on Wednesday due to their superior goal difference.
Recalling his experience of preparing for similarly important matches as a player at Manchester United, Neville said: “I’m not sure Guardiola’s wired the same way, but Sir Alex (Ferguson) would’ve been getting right into us in the 24-48 hours leading up to Wednesday night.
“He’d be saying ‘this is it, you go there on Wednesday and you win the league’. Not that we would – not that City will if they win on Wednesday – but it’s that mentality.
“I’m looking at Pep ahead of Wednesday and he’ll really fancy this. It’s one of his protegees in Mikel Arteta, who’s done a wonderful job at Arsenal. They’ve been the best team in the league so far, but they can be damaged on Wednesday.
“But so can City and Arsenal should remember that. People will think City are hunting Arsenal down, but Arsenal can damage them. If they play anything like the levels they’ve played at times, they’ll win the match. City aren’t at the level yet.
“[But] those young players they’ve got up front – do they really believe they can win a title? These are hardened winners they’re playing against and if they smell a little bit of blood, they’ll go for it. It’s a really interesting game.”
Premier League table
‘Arsenal blip was coming – but how will they respond?’
Arsenal enjoyed a stunning first half of the Premier League season, winning 16 of their first 19 matches, but have taken just one point from their last two fixtures against Everton and Brentford.
Arteta’s side are without a win in three games in all competitions after losing 1-0 at Man City in the FA Cup last month, and Neville says the Gunners’ reaction to what he considered to be an inevitable blip will determine whether they can win their first league title in 19 years.
“It depends what damage it’s done to Arsenal internally,” said Neville of their recent results. “Do you honestly believe a season is going to be a bed of roses and you’re going to walk all the way through it getting 105, 110 points? It’s not going to happen.
“This wobble is always going to happen to every club, in every season where they win a league. It’s natural.
“Are they going into it [Wednesday] thinking they’d have more of a cushion beating Everton and Brentford, or is it ‘this is what happens during a long season’, you have a tough part of a title race and that’s what is happening at this point in the race?
“It doesn’t surprise me that this has happened. There would be a moment whereby they would drop points. They’ve been outstanding in that first half of the season, but it was inconceivable that it would continue right to the end of the season – that Man City would let them off the hook, if you like.
“They’re now under a little bit of pressure and knowing they could be off the top of the league for the first time if they lose on Wednesday. That’s interesting for them.
“But when Blackburn beat us (Man Utd) to the title , when Leicester won it , when Leeds won it just before I broke into the United team , they had these moments where it looked like Manchester United or the bigger team would come through and they didn’t because they continued to wobble themselves.
“Arsenal could get over the line that way. It’s never easy.”
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