Pep vs Pep: Guardiola’s City and Barcelona teams compared
In another dimension somewhere out there in the universe, there are two Pep Guardiolas.
One is leading his Barcelona treble-winning side of 2008-09 and the other is in charge of his current magnificent Manchester City XI. It’s a one-off match to be crowned King Pep.
Which team would come out victorious? Let’s examine them to find out…
Best Player: Lionel Messi
This one doesn't need too much explaining. The diminutive Argentine is likely to go down as the greatest of all time - only the likes of Pele, Diego Maradona, and his great modern-day rival Cristiano Ronaldo can lay claim to his crown.
In 2008-09, he actually contributed his joint second-lowest goal tally for the club in a season in which he made 30 appearances or more, scoring just the 38 goals in 51 games. He went on to win that year’s Ballon d’Or by a then-record margin.
Total Goals: 158
The Catalan giants had a fearsome three-pronged attack, with Thierry Henry, Samuel Eto'o, and Messi spearheading a creative midfield comprising Xavi, Andres Iniesta, and Sergio Busquets (Alex Ferguson referred to these three as part of the ‘passing carousel’ before the Champions League final). They scored a total of 158 goals in all competitions; 105 in La Liga, 36 in European competition, and 17 in the Copa del Rey for an average of 2.54 per game.
While scoring wasn't an issue, Barcelona weren't renowned for their defensive prowess. They conceded 56 goals in all competitions, which reflects poorly when compared to the current Man City team.
Nevertheless, a back four of Dani Alves, Gerard Pique, Carlos Puyol, and Sylvinho, with Yaya Toure as backup, provided a solid base to build.
The history of football is littered with tactical trends and moments. Guardiola has perfected many new methods as recently as this season.
But there was nothing too fancy about Barcelona's approach throughout the season. Pass ball, keep ball, score goal. Repeat.
An elite anchor midfielder in Busquets allowed Xavi and Iniesta to create from midfield, and in Eto'o, Henry, and Messi, they had a front three capable of destroying any defence. A 4-3-3 formation got the best out of their most balletically balanced but deceptively destructive players.
In 2008-09, Guardiola was the youngest manager ever to win the Champions League at 38 years and 129 days old. Now in his 50s, he looks like he's figured out the formula to footballing perfection.
Pep's Man City
Best Player: Erling Haaland It's a toss-up between the prolific Norwegian and the mercurial Kevin De Bruyne but, of the two, Haaland edges it because of the sheer weight of goals he contributes.
The list of records in his first season in English football makes for impressive reading:
He has 36 goals in his first 35 Premier League appearances, beating Andy Cole and Alan Shearer for the player to score the most goals in a single Premier League campaign With 52 goals, he has smashed the record for most goals by a Premier League player across all competitions, beating the 44 hit by Mohamed Salah and Ruud van Nistelrooy He is one of only six players in Premier League history to score back-to-back hat-tricks (the other five are Les Ferdinand, Ian Wright, Didier Drogba, Wayne Rooney, and Harry Kane) With four hat-tricks in total, he has taken the match ball home more times than any other player in a single Premier League season except Alan Shearer, who managed five in 1995-96 for Blackburn Rovers
We could go on. He may not be at Messi-level of consistency yet but if you were to ask Guardiola which player he would pick out of the two from their respective campaigns - Messi in 2008-09 or Haaland in 2022-23 - it isn't necessarily a slam dunk to say which one he'd go for.
Total Goals: 150 While the Citizens have been scoring for fun this season, it is virtually impossible for them to beat the 158 set by Barcelona in 2008-09 in their remaining game.
It's easy to forget that the first half of this Man City campaign was difficult for Guardiola's team, with a lack of cohesion in attack leading to some frustrating results.
Something switched, though, and in the 22 games up until the final match of the Premier League campaign they had bagged 65 goals, averaging more than 2.9 per game.
They would, of course, have smashed Barcelona's total had they replicated that prolific form over the entire season.
While Guardiola’s Barca has the edge in goals scored, the Citizens take the defensive crown with some distinction.
They conceded just 33 goals in the Premier League, five in the Champions League and had a perfect clean sheet record in the FA Cup until the final, where they conceded to a Bruno Fernandes penalty.
The depth of talent at the back spans Nathan Ake, Ruben Dias, John Stones, Manuel Akanji, Kyle Walker, and Aymeric Laporte. It is shielded by the incredible Rodri in defensive midfield. You feel the City backline would come out on top in this hypothetical clash.
… but with caveats. Because how do you pin down a modern Guardiola tactic? The best way to sum up Man City's starting formation this season is 4-2-3-1. However, when they are in possession for extended periods (almost always) they adopt a 3-2-4-1 line-up with one of the backline - normally John Stones - stepping into midfield.
Adopting this approach helps Man City create a midfield overload with Ilkay Gundogan and Bernardo Silva unafraid to stay deep in the initial attacking phase before setting traps and springing attacks. It's proven exceptionally effective.
The Citizens scored 100 goals at the Etihad this term, equalling the record (set by themselves in 2018-19) for home goals in all competitions.
There is perhaps just one front three in the history of European football that can rival the 2008-09 Barcelona trio, and Messi was present in that one too. Three incisive, deadly finishers in Henry, Eto’o and the Argentine wonder would be difficult for any team to repel. However, the current Man City XI ticks a lot of other boxes, including defensive solidity and tactical intelligence.
We reckon it’d be a tight affair but given Barcelona's incredible firepower and the fact that Ferguson labelled them the best team he's ever faced, we'd side with the Catalan giants. Just.
Combined XI (4-3-3): Ederson; Alves, Dias, Puyol, Ake; Busquets, Xavi, De Bruyne; Messi, Haaland, Henry
Prediction: Barcelona 2008-09 4-3 Man City 2022-23