Football

Neil Humphreys: Pep Guardiola can win everything

City boss looks unstoppable ahead of Arsenal clash

In a quiet corner of north London, Arsene Wenger gently weeps.

And if he isn't, he should be.

On Sunday, he faces the manager he used to be, a manager who's more than capable of winning the lot this season.

After Manchester City's 4-2 win in Napoli yesterday morning (Singapore time), their supporters should consider adapting an old tune from the neighbours.

Robin van Persie, he scores when he wants.

Old Trafford used to love that one, but the Etihad crowd could go one better when Arsenal visit on Sunday.

Pep Guardiola, he wins when he wants.

He really does. The Spaniard pulls strings to control the most hostile of Italian environments, turning City into tactical chameleons.

Serie A leaders Napoli were savaged on their own patch as Guardiola's men broke more records than a retro DJ with the shakes.

City are the first English club to win in Naples. Maurizio Sarri's side sampled defeat at home for the first time this season.

And Sergio Aguero scored his 178th goal to overtake the club's previous top scorer Eric Brook, whose tally had stood for 78 years.

These are fun facts, but they draw attention from the reality. Guardiola might just be the real deal after all.

At first glance, such a sentence sounds ridiculous. A serial winner at Barcelona and Bayern Munich, Guardiola rubber-stamped his credentials years ago.

But sceptics of the British bulldog kind love to fall back on the notion that Johnny Foreigner is all style and no substance, a product of a big budget rather than the battling qualities needed to win away at Stoke.

Such an argument is patently nonsense, but it does add fuel to the suspicion that Guardiola hasn't yet fully proven himself.

He had inherited professional privileges by taking over established brands in Barcelona and Munich. They were already on the road to glory. He just hit the accelerator.

Anyone who watched Guardiola's Barcelona knows that such a perception is misguided.

Nevertheless, Manchester City were always going to confirm or question his reputation, forcing him to test himself at a club without success in Europe.

He isn't there yet. But he put down one hell of a marker in Naples.

TACTICAL TWEAK

City brushed Napoli aside, thanks to another tactical tweak from Guardiola.

Last season, the Spaniard had the right idea, but the wrong personnel. He knew that intense pressing was the way to go, but he didn't have the defensive cover to make it work.

And in the first half, City wobbled as Marek Hamsik and left back Faouzi Ghoulam surged down the flank. There's also no doubt that City benefited from Ghoulam's injury and substitution.

But they were able to profit because they've reached a level of tactical versatility beyond almost every other major club in Europe.

City deployed a loose 4-1-4-1, opting for a holding pattern as Guardiola anticipated Napoli's early assaults.

N'Golo Kante's influence in the last two title triumphs has been well documented, but Fernandinho's evolution into one of Europe's most reliable holding midfielders has got lost in City's attacking hoopla.

Guardiola's famed wing-backs have also dominated headlines in the past, but he opted for a resolute back four in Naples. Kyle Walker didn't get off the bench.

Last season, Guardiola's faith in erratic goalkeepers and extravagant centre backs cost him the title. Against Napoli, Ederson proved a one-man wall.

In front of Ederson, John Stones has learnt to defend first, attack later.

Both he and Nicolas Otamendi headed in goals from set-piece routines to show that Guardiola isn't opposed to a route-one approach either.

And consider the praise that was lavished upon Juergen Klopp for converting James Milner into a left back at Liverpool.

Guardiola has done the same with Fabian Delph with minimal fuss. The midfielder was excellent once again at left back.

When Napoli tired, Guardiola brought on David Silva and Bernardo Silva for a little rope-a-dope, allowing Raheem Sterling to score his 10th goal of the season.

The English winger epitomises City's progress under Guardiola. He's sharper, confident and more consistent than he was last season. Put simply, he knows what he's doing.

They all do. That's why they can switch positions or drop to the bench and the machine rolls on. That's why they really could win the Champions League.

Guardiola has achieved many great things in his career. But this season could well confirm his reputation as one of the greatest of all time.

Champions Leaguemanchester citypep guardiola