Pep Guardiola's options after promising 'ridiculous' tactical ideas

Could Manchester City play two false nines and DROP goal machine Erling Haaland, opt for a back three and push Rico Lewis into midfield or even go for a 4-2-4? Pep Guardiola’s options after he promised ‘ridiculous’ tactical ideas for Man United showdown

  • Pep Guardiola has ‘ridiculous’ tactical plans in his head before Saturday’s derby 
  • Man City can go within two points of leaders Arsenal if they beat Man United 
  • He has been criticised at times for ‘over-thinking’ his team in big matches
  • His City side ripped United apart with a brave tactical decision back in 2020
  • Sportsmail looks at Guardiola’s options ahead of Saturday’s Manchester derby 

Pep Guardiola is known to be a manager who changes things up for the big games and he has promised ‘ridiculous’ tactical ideas for Saturday’s Manchester derby.

The idea of Guardiola coming up with a ‘ridiculous’ plan conjures up all kinds of ideas, following past criticism that has been thrown his way that he ‘over-thinks’ high profile games.  

One obvious example was the 2021 Champions League final where Guardiola decided to play without a holding midfielder in a 1-0 defeat to Chelsea.

Pep Guardiola is conjuring up some ‘ridiculous’ tactical ideas for the Manchester derby

However, Guardiola has changed things up against Manchester United in the past and walked away with the win.

Saturday’s clash promises to be one of the more even Manchester derbies in recent seasons, given United’s improvement under manager Erik ten Hag.  

Sportsmail takes a look at Guardiola’s options and consider what plans he could be cooking up for arguably their biggest game of the season to date.

Guardiola has been criticised for ‘over-thinking’ in the past – including in their Champions League final loss to Chelsea in 2021 (pictured) 

However, he changed up his system at Man United in 2020 and walked away with a 3-1 win

Play two false-nines 

This is perhaps the most outrageous plan Guardiola could consider, even if they ripped their bitter rivals apart with the same system three years ago.

City battered United at Old Trafford in the second leg of the Carabao Cup semi-finals using the system – which Kevin De Bruyne claimed took players just 15 minutes to perfect in training.

They later used it against Paris Saint-Germain in the semi-finals of the Champions League in 2021, which saw them advance to the final.  

The system worked well for City at the time due to the numerical advantage it created in midfield, the pressure they were able to apply when off-ball, and with the supreme talent of De Bruyne, who like today can find a team-mate at will. 

Man City can play two false nines effectively thanks to the brilliance of Kevin De Bruyne

While it is a system they could still use effectively, it is one that would take away their most deadly weapon in the form of goal machine Erling Haaland.

In the last couple of seasons, City’s striker options have been Sergio Aguero, who was no longer a consistent starter, and Gabriel Jesus, who has never be seen as the most prolific striker having hit double figures in the Premier League in just two out of six seasons at the Etihad. 

Haaland, though, has scored a ridiculous 27 goals in 22 games across all competitions this season and it would be unthinkable for Guardiola to leave him out of the team in a game of such importance.

He was dropped to the bench against Chelsea in the FA Cup – surely with a view of bringing him back into the fold against United.  

Even if he was unavailable, World Cup winner Julian Alvarez has done well when called upon this season. 

Erling Haaland was on the bench in the FA Cup win over Chelsea but it would be a huge risk for Pep Guardiola to go back to his two false-nine system which beat Manchester United in 2020


Guardiola has gone to a 4-2-4 system during games in the past – more to deal with high-pressing teams such as Liverpool.  

This system would see the full-backs dropping deep to provide defensive stability to what is an attacking formation.

With this system, Guardiola would likely ask his wingers, expected to be two out of Phil Foden, Jack Grealish and Riyad Mahrez, to push up high and cause problems for United’s full-backs.

Guardiola could play a 4-2-4 system and ask wingers such as Phil Foden to play very high

Their presence high up the pitch would give United something to think about, at a time when they would be most determined to keep Haaland quiet in the middle of the attack.

The system could only work with a solid midfield, meaning Rodri and Bernardo Silva would likely feature.

Therefore, De Bruyne would start higher up the pitch as the fourth man in City’s attack – ahead of Alvarez.  

With the return of Lisandro Martinez, United have a full-strength defence to choose from. 

However, any defence in the world would be given a tough task trying to stop the ‘cheat-code’ duo that is De Bruyne and Haaland. 

Julian Alvarez would likely be left on the bench behind Kevin De Bruyne in a 4-2-4 formation

Joao Cancelo as a right winger 

The Portuguese international has twice played as a right winger by Guardiola this season.

Cancelo is one of the world’s best attacking full-backs and it can be argued why Guardiola would have faith in him starting higher up the pitch, with someone like Kyle Walker behind him to cover United’s wide players in defence.

Though there is some credit to Cancelo playing higher up the field, both times it’s happened this season it hasn’t fully worked out.

In the 1-0 loss to Liverpool in October, Cancelo had one of his worst displays in recent times and was defensively at fault for the loss.  

Cancelo was at fault for Liverpool’s winner against Manchester City back in October

It wasn’t for an issue in his area on the right-wing, but straight from a goal-kick by Alisson, the ball landed at the feet of Mo Salah, who spun Cancelo and burst through to score the winner.

He couldn’t help City get back into the game as his crossing – normally one of his best traits – was off on the day, too.  

Cancelo played there again for the 1-0 victory over Chelsea last week in which he put in an energetic display only to be hooked off for Rico Lewis at the start of the second-half.  

Playing him on the right-wing could potentially tie in with City playing three at the back.  

Cancelo had an energetic display before being hooked off at half-time against Chelsea

Three at the back and Rico Lewis in midfield

Both times Cancelo has been a right winger have coincided with City playing three at the back this season.  

Against Chelsea, City played a back-three which consisted of Nathan Ake, John Stones and Kyle Walker.

Walker’s speed in defence could come in handy coming up against the pace of in-form United attacker Marcus Rashford.  

City were second best in the first half at Stamford Bridge and were perhaps fortunate not to go in behind after Carney Chukwuemeka hit the inside of the post for Chelsea.  

Should Guardiola opt for three at the back then he would likely include Kyle Walker (right)

Their performance improved dramatically after Guardiola brought on Lewis and Manuel Akanji for Cancelo and Walker. 

The performance of Lewis in particular was praised by Guardiola after their 1-0 victory as he insisted the teenager had shown ‘the ability to make the midfield better’.

So perhaps if City were to go three at the back they could look to start Lewis in midfield.  

Lewis started three consecutive games before the trip to Stamford Bridge, and it would be no surprise to see him start in what would be his biggest game to date against Manchester United in midfield.

Rico Lewis was impressive in his role in midfield when he came off the bench against Chelsea

Two holding midfielders 

Guardiola alternatively could take a more considered approach and play two holding midfielders at Old Trafford. 

The Spaniard played with this system against Chelsea last season, with Rodri and Bernardo Silva playing at the heart of City’s midfield.  

City will be in for a tougher battle than in recent years against United’s midfield, thanks to their summer addition of Casemiro from Real Madrid.

Bruno Fernandes has also had a return to form after his struggles last season and his attacking threat will be something Guardiola needs to consider at the weekend.

City could play two holding midfielders to win the battle against Casemiro and Fernandes

Rodri played with Bernardo Silva as two holding midfielders last season against Chelsea

Stopping Fernandes and winning the midfield battle against United and Casemiro, would be a good reason as to why City might want to play with two holders.

Guardiola hasn’t ruled out the prospect of playing two holding midfielders this season, suggesting in October that Kalvin Phillips could start alongside Rodri.

Though it’s unlikely Phillips will be thrown into the fold due to his injury issues and lack of game-time this season, a midfield duo of Rodri and Silva could be one that Guardiola turns to in order get a hold of the battle in the middle of the pitch.

The more likely 4-2-3-1 system

This would be the predictable system City could choose with De Bruyne starting behind Haaland.

De Bruyne and Haaland – along with Foden – helped rip United apart earlier in the season at the Etihad to claim a 6-3 victory.

Given their performances that day it is likely that all three men will have a big part to play at Old Trafford.

De Bruyne starting behind Haaland in a 4-2-3-1 formation would be the most predictable 

City’s biggest strengths come through De Bruyne and Haaland, and getting them to link up is something Guardiola will want his team to promote, while Ten Hag will do everything he can to stop them.

It would probably be the safe bet for Guardiola as he looks to close the gap to Arsenal to two points.

However he has a history of making big calls for big matches so if Guardiola is promising ‘ridiculous’ tactical ideas for the Manchester derby, there is a strong chance that he’s actually not bluffing. 

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