Pep Guardiola’s use of the Libero in the 4-3-3 formation

Pep Guardiola is amongst the most thought provoking tactical intellectual’s of football history, and is the pioneer for tactical evolution in the modern age. He is known for his willingness to implement new tactical systems that other, more conservative managers would shy away from.
His new tactical venture seems to moving towards the use of a Libero in a 4-3-3
system. This was seen against Arsenal a few weeks ago in City’s 3-1 win, where
Fernandinho was used as a centre back when out of possession before moving into
midfield alongside Gundogan, to play as a deep double pivot when City had controlled possession.
City lined up in a conventional 4-3-3 seemingly, with Fernandinho filling in as a
make shift centre back. When the opposition, in this case Arsenal, had the ball,
Fernandinho would sit alongside Otamendi at centre back, with Walker and Laporte
as full backs. Gundogan sat as the deep lying midfielder, the role Fernandinho usual
plays for Guardiola. David Silva and Kevin De Bruyne sat as the two advanced
playmaker ahead of him, Bernardo Silva and Sterling were on the wings with
Aguero up front.

During Arsenal’s build up Aguero would lead the press, with David Silva and Kevin
De Bruyne pressing aggressively when the ball was shifted wide of Aguero.
Fernandinho would sometimes start higher up in midfield if City were looking press
aggressively, moving alongside Gundogan so De Bruyne could move further forward
to create a three man front press alongside Silva and Augero. This aggressive pressing style against Arsenal’s 4-4-2, with Torreira and Guendouzi in midfield made it easy for City to close down Arsenal’s options and force them into a long ball.

If Arsenal were able to play through the press, Fernandinho would then drop into the centre back position, the wide centre backs Laporte and Walker would shift wider to become full backs and City would drop into a more conventional 4-5-1 defensive shape.
It is clear why Guardiola has begun to adapt his side to use this system. When in
possession, City shift from a 4-3-3 to a 3-2-4-1, with Fernandinho and Gundogan as
the deep double pivot, Bernardo Silva and Sterling maintaining the width in the system, allowing De Bruyne and Silva to float around in behind the opposition centre midfielders to find the half space where the can be found.

Usually, in a 4-3-3 this sort of in possession system is achieved by advancing the full
backs so they are almost playing as wingers, dropping a midfielder into the back
line to split the centre backs, creating a three man back line, and moving the
wingers into narrow advanced midfield positions. The only probably with this
system is that your full backs have to not only have the defensive ability to play
against the best wingers in the league, but also have the same offensive output as a
conventional winger, which is incredibly rare to find both in a full back, hence why
the likes of Mendy and Alex Sandro are valued so highly.

At the moment with Zinchenko and Delph as left backs without Mendy, the City left
doesn’t have the offensive output it used to, which is why Guardiola has sought to
solve this problem by putting national wide players in this position, Bernardo Silva
and Sterling, without the defensive responsibility that an attacking full back would
In the case of a counter, City have three natural defenders playing as a three at the
back, rather than a midfielder in between two centre backs, making them more
defensively solid. The libber, the centre back who moves into midfield, in this case is
Fernandinho. To play this role the midfielder must have great awareness of when to
drop back. He plays in a double pivot almost as a shuttler ready to close down the
space out wide to stop counter attacks. Fernandinho’s positional awareness,
athleticism and overall defensive ability makes him perfect for this role.

Other players who could possibly play this role include David Luiz, Victor Lindelof,
Allan and Marquinhos, due to their long range passing and composure which would
make them able to play in midfield, Allan is obviously a centre midfielder who would
be able to fulfill the same duties as Fernandinho due to his athleticism, positional
awareness and tackling ability, whilst the others are centre backs who are athletic
and technically good enough to step into midfield and give their side an extra made,
especially if a side doesn’t have full backs who have exceptional attacking output.
Guardiola has yet to use this system regularly, but like his use of inverted wing
backs, this could become his next tactical revolution, particularly with the lack of
excellent attacking full backs on the market.
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