The blue double-decker bus carrying the treble winners for Manchester City slowly rolled through the streets of Manchester city center on Monday night to give fans a chance to celebrate the team that completed not only the most successful season their club has seen, but one of the greatest ever. The mood was little affected by the change in weather from sun to rain as City fans came out to welcome their team at home, after most of the players made a brief stop in Ibiza on Sunday night.
Pep Guardiola’s men, after winning the Premier League title, FA Cup and Champions League during the 2022-23 season, have secured their place among some of the most iconic teams in history including Ajax in 1972, Manchester United in 1999 and Barcelona in 2009. But as the afternoon sun turned To typical Manchester showers, glasses sparkling and beer flowing, it was easy to forget that this season has not been without its struggles for Guardiola and his players.
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Since July, Guardiola has taken stock of his squad and told the staff he was concerned about their thirst for more success. He felt his motivation had waned, only slightly, after he won back-to-back Premier League titles, but always a perfectionist, he saw it as a big problem. Even worse, according to some of the people around the city manager, he didn’t know how to fix it.
Never staying more than four years at either Barcelona or Bayern Munich in his previous coaching jobs, Guardiola was in uncharted territory as he prepared for his seventh season at the Etihad Stadium. Despite spending part of the summer with his family in Barbados, he also felt a little tired. There were points during the summer when he admitted he was not looking forward to the new season, particularly with the expectation of the Winter World Cup on the horizon.
However, Monday’s celebrations on the streets of Manchester proved Guardiola’s fears were unfounded, as Manchester City completed an impressive campaign. Here’s how they got to the top of football in 2022-23.
Building around Halland
During the pre-season, Guardiola saw for the first time the source of the Premier League title threat to City. After hearing that Arsenal beat Thomas Tuchel’s Chelsea 4-0 in Florida, Guardiola raised his eyebrows and said, “Wow.” Afterwards, Arsenal manager (and former City assistant) Mikel Arteta tried to downplay the result, but Arsenal really caught Guardiola’s attention.
But before anyone else discovered Arsenal’s credentials, City’s season kicked off with the Community Shield against their main rivals of the past four years: Liverpool.
Erling Haaland, a striker signed to deals amid transfer hype, missed a golden opportunity as City lost 3-1 at Leicester’s King Power Stadium, and questions immediately began as to whether the Norway international could cut it in England. Guardiola looked for his striker after the match, thinking he might need to lift his spirits, but before the conversation could begin, Haaland laughed and said: “Don’t worry, I’ll score.”
He was not mistaken. Haaland scored nine goals in his next five matches, including consecutive hat-tricks against Crystal Palace and Nottingham Forest, and finished the season with 52 in all competitions.
Much of Guardiola’s work at the start of the season focused on how to get the best out of his new striker. Ahead of Haaland’s arrival from Borussia Dortmund, Guardiola assured the player’s father, Alfie, that City could play in a way that suited the 22-year-old, noting in particular his work with Robert Lewandowski at Bayern. But City’s 2021-22 title success was built on a strikerless system and it took them time to adapt to Haaland’s skill set.
The plan developed by Guardiola involved asking creative players to look for Haaland first when receiving the ball. They didn’t have to pass to him, but they did have to look before they decided what to do next, and Guardiola wanted to see them do that.
During the first weeks of the season, Kevin De Bruyne, Jack Grealish and Bernardo Silva were shown videos of Haaland’s movement and asked, “Did you look?” If the answer is ‘no’, there will be a simple reprimand and a reminder that the attacker does not fit in without the ball.
Haaland helped Guardiola as much as Guardiola helped Haaland too. According to sources, the City manager relished the challenge of building another squad around himself, but it was another young player, Rico Lewis, who was at the center of a crucial period in City’s season.
The unexpected savior of the city
The biggest fear around the club ahead of the campaign was that Guardiola’s contract – which expires in June 2023 – could turn into a distraction. There were internal discussions about whether Julian Nagelsmann, then at Bayern Munich, would be a good fit if a replacement was needed, and it was a relief when Guardiola traveled to Abu Dhabi during the World Cup break to sign a new two-year deal.
Even with Guardiola’s future secured, it wasn’t easy when the season resumed. Guardiola was not happy with the body language of some of his players in training and quickly slipped into the matches.
City drew Everton at the Etihad Stadium in their second Premier League game after the restart and then in January suffered back-to-back defeats by Southampton in the Carabao Cup and Manchester United in the Premier League. In their next game, City had to come back from 2-0 down to beat Tottenham Hotspur 4-2, after which Guardiola exploded in his press conference, describing his players as a “happy flower team”.
Behind closed doors, he’s even more brutal, accusing his team of being “soft” while also revealing that his fear that hunger has been consumed away has been proven right. One of the only positives, he said, was Lewis, the teenage defender who became involved with the team after the World Cup.
He was highly rated by the youth coaches who have worked with Lewis since he joined that club aged eight, the year before he was playing for the Under-21s in a 5-0 defeat in front of less than 2,000 fans at Rotherham.
The 18-year-old did not, according to Guardiola, have the “arrogance” to expect to win every game just by turning up and playing like that. The manager encouraged others to follow the young man’s example. Luis also possessed the technical ability to show Guardiola that it is possible to play with a defender who has also moved into midfield, a role that John Stones perfected during Round Two.
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Luis’ emergence also played a role in Guardiola’s acceptance of Joao Cancelo’s request to leave in the January transfer window after an angry row between the duo over a lack of defenders to play following his return from Qatar. Football director Txiki Begiristain inquired with Guardiola before accepting Bayern’s offer to sign Cancelo on loan, and the response came that the atmosphere in the dressing room is much more important than any individual.
Meanwhile, the wintry tension on the training ground was reflected in the boardroom.
It feeds on adversity
On the morning of 6 February, City bosses received 30 minutes’ notice that the Premier League had charged the club with more than 100 breaches of financial rules between 2009 and 2018.
Speculation that a guilty verdict could lead to titles being stripped and even relegation quickly rocked the dressing room. Begiristain and chief executive Ferran Soriano addressed the team and staff at the City Football Academy (CFA) to allay their concerns before Guardiola spoke, telling his group that City had “already been judged” and that it was up to them to “defend” the club. dirty.
For some, City’s treble will come with an asterisk until the club is cleared of any wrongdoing, although with no timetable for the process to be completed, it could take some time.
Guardiola insists that facing the Premier League was not the turning point in the season, but after February 6, City played 28 games in all competitions and lost only one match, against Brentford in May when they actually won the title.
At one point in early April, City were eight points behind Arsenal in the title race, but Guardiola’s message was consistent: stay tuned and get them to Etihad. Arteta brought his team to Manchester on April 26th and was thrashed 4-1. Four league wins later, City were crowned champions for the fifth time in six years.
How they finally won in Europe
City’s title run only really began in February, but the seeds for Champions League success were sown long before that.
In the aftermath of last season’s semi-final defeat by Real Madrid in May 2022 – City were leading until stoppage time in the second leg – Guardiola told his players to remember their collapse at the Bernabeu was down to a lack of character and mental strength. He reminded them again ahead of this season’s second leg, telling them that as he watched the draw in his office at the City Football Academy he wanted to get Real Madrid again because he “wanted to”, seeing the replay as an opportunity to end the debate over his group’s mentality. .
Drawn 1-1 in the semi-final first leg in the Spanish capital, City defeated European champions 4-0 in one of the most devastating displays of the Guardiola era. Real Madrid were so losing that at one point Guardiola turned to Vinicius Jr. as he was standing on the touchline and asked, “Are you going to play?”
Vinicius did not have an answer. Neither does Madrid.
Throughout the season there are pictures of the Premier League Cup, FA Cup and Champions League Trophy hung around City’s training ground, above the caption ‘Our Goal’. In public, Guardiola played down the prospect of winning the treble, at one point describing the hat-trick as “impossible”, but privately he encouraged his players to consider their chance to write themselves in the history books. After all, the only other English team to do it was United under Sir Alex Ferguson and that was almost 25 years ago.
It culminated in a 1-0 win over Inter Milan in Istanbul on Saturday night. Perhaps fittingly one of City’s toughest games of a great season, Rodri settled it midway through the second half after City came under sudden pressure from their opponents. It was also the toughest of City’s three titles, and an affirmation for Guardiola after several near misses in major European competitions since his arrival in Manchester.
After partying at Atatürk Stadium for over an hour, followed by Heineken cans in the dressing room, the party moved to the rooftop bar of the Marriott Hotel. Some players, including Grealish, were still in their kits when they showed up, and when they did, they recognized waiting friends and family as “Manchester City, the treble winners”. (The party went on all weekend as a big city unit – led by Grealish, Stones, Foden and Haaland – Flew to Ibiza For more fun ahead of Monday’s parade in Manchester with Grealish front and center There is, too.)
After a season of ups and downs, problems and solutions, Guardiola’s impossible dream came true.