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Pep Guardiola trialled innovative formation to solve Man City’s left-back problem

Manchester City want a new left-back with a month to go in the transfer window, with Joao Cancelo playing against West Ham.

In the same week that Manchester City’s left-back target joined Chelsea and Joao Cancelo was exposed by Liverpool, Pep Guardiola found an innovative solution to the pressure building on the left-back position at West Ham: Don’t play one.

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City decided not to pay Brighton’s asking price for Marc Cucurella, which was understandable given that he joined Chelsea for £55 million, rising to £62 million, but it has left them worryingly short on full-backs with less than a month of the transfer window remaining and the start of a new Premier League season.

Cancelo was expected to start at left-back with Kyle Walker on the right at West Ham, but the way they played was far less predictable, proving Pep Guardiola is ready to innovate and keep the Premier League guessing for a seventh season.

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Cancelo and Kyle Walker tucked inside wherever possible from the start, effectively acting as a double pivot, in stark contrast to their touchline-hugging roles against Liverpool last week. That was necessary due to Liverpool’s emphasis on their wingers, whereas West Ham prefers their forwards to come inside and crowd the center.

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As a result, City asked their full-backs to come inside, both acting as defensive midfielders when the Blues had possession, with Rodri dropping back in between Ruben Dias and Nathan Ake whenever possible – though the centre-backs were frequently left as a back two as City had 84% possession in the first half.

After watching Fernandinho, Rodri, and Ilkay Gundogan try to play in different combinations of holding midfield pairs with little reward in recent years, City fans have become wary of the term “double-pivot.”

Instead, in the last two Premier League-winning seasons, City has often found success by bringing one of their full-backs, often Cancelo, inside to join the midfield, reinventing the role of a wide defender.

Few times have City brought both full-backs in as a pair, forming a 2-2-3-3 formation – but it worked wonders to crowd the midfield at West Ham and set the attackers free.

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Naturally, it will not work against every opponent, as Liverpool demonstrated last week. Walker and Cancelo will have to stay back and wide against teams that play with two traditional wide players, something they didn’t always do against Liverpool. It is in these games that the value of a new left-back becomes clear.

However, in games where teams try to overload the central areas, this new innovative solution of using two inverted full-backs will reduce the need for a left-back.

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