As ever with Pep Guardiola, the process mattered more to him than the result. He was delighted to have started his second Champions League campaign with a 4-0 thumping of Feyenoord, already putting Manchester City in the box seat to win Group F.
But there was more to it than that. “The most important thing was the way we did it,” Guardiola emphasised afterwards. “We did not speculate, we did not sit back, we were aggressive without the ball.”
Having played with a 3-5-2 for three of their four Premier League games so far this season, Guardiola reverted to the 4-3-3 in Rotterdam, with Sergio Aguero, Gabriel Jesus and Bernardo Silva as his front three. He suggested afterwards that he had caught the Dutch champions off guard.
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“We made a good high pressing, three against three,” Guardiola explained. “Maybe they expected we would play with two strikers, but we played with three strikers, and we made good pressing 3v3. They could not play.” Giovanni van Bronckhorst admitted afterwards his team was “not ready” for City.
With Jesus, Bernardo and even Aguero, not a natural presser, smothering the Feyenoord back line, they could barely get out of their half. It made for one of those complete Guardiola displays where nothing the opposition tried could make the slightest impact on the game.
And it silenced De Kuip, which no-one would have expected beforehand. “I can imagine this stadium if you let them play, the atmosphere,” Guardiola said. “We made a lot of passes in a row in the beginning, 20 to 25, and when that happens the crowd is a little bit down, low.”
So why does this particular detail matter after such a comprehensive win? Remember back six months ago, as City went out of the Champions League. They arrived in Monaco with a 5-3 lead but lost 3-1 at the Stade Louis II. For all the criticism of the leaky defence, Guardiola made abundantly clear that he did not blame them, but blamed the front three instead, Aguero, Leroy Sane and Raheem Sterling.
“It’s not about the defence,” Guardiola snapped after seeing his team knocked out. “Today was not about that. The problem was the first half when we were not there. Our strikers have to be aggressive and pick the ball up, but we didn't. We weren't there. We wanted to show personality, not to let them think, but they could pass and pass the ball. We forgot to do that. At this crucial time. That's why we are out.”
It was one of the more surprising post-match press conferences of the Guardiola era at City but it revealed a greater truth: that Guardiola believes the path to control, and to security in defence, starts from the front. The failure to press properly was why he said City had conceded so many goals in Europe that season.
So for City to set about Feyenoord like they did, pressing and smothering them, maintaining control of the game, marks an early step in their improvement from last season to this one. The next test will be to do it against Shakhtar Donetsk and Napoli.