By Simon Evans
MANCHESTER, England (Reuters) – Pep Guardiola has built his decade of soccer success on creating teams that dominate possession but on Saturday — for the first time in his career — one of his teams had less of the ball than the opposition.
From Barcelona to Bayern Munich and on to Manchester City, the ‘Pep way’ has been built around an obsessive attention to keeping hold of the ball.
But on Saturday, something strange happened – his City side beat Chelsea in the Premier League without having a majority of the possession.
The possession stat of 46.74 during City’s 2-1 win was the lowest recorded by a side managed by Guardiola in any of his 381 top-flight matches in charge at his three clubs.
The Spaniard tried to give the impression that he wouldn’t be losing any sleep about that piece of data, although it is hard to believe it won’t pique his curiosity at the very least.
“There is always one thing in your lifetime that hasn’t happened. It happened,” he told reporters.
“So, OK, I have another record, I won one game without possession. They (Chelsea) are an incredible team with Kante, Kovacic, Jorginho, so it can happen,” he said.
Chelsea’s midfield was indeed impressive but Guardiola teams have regularly played against top-quality mid-fields and still dominated the ball.
Guardiola credited Chelsea’s performance on the “courage” of their manager Frank Lampard.
“They are so good, they are an incredible team. It’s Chelsea. Football is becoming like this. Most teams and young managers have spirit and nothing to lose. That’s why the football is nice. Chelsea are playing incredibly well,” he said.
Lampard acknowledged that his approach had been to take the game to City.
“I wanted to come here and be brave on the ball, be brave off the ball and you saw all of that from us in the first half,” he said.
But what will concern Guardiola, when he looks back on the first half in particular, was that his side did not manage to recreate the zippy, crisp, passing game that has been characteristic of their past two seasons.
The tempo was slower and the precision level lower, with the result that Chelsea were able to enjoy plenty of the ball as well as troubling the far-from-secure City backline.
Midfielder Kevin De Bruyne, whose goal brought City back on level terms after N’Golo Kante’s opener before Riyad Mahrez’s 37th-minute match-winner, said the game showed there was another way of winning.
“People expect us to have 70 percent possession but these guys have a lot of quality,” said the Belgian.
“They work hard; they can keep the ball. They’re doing really well. It’s difficult to win the ball back from them.
“Maybe they had a little more of the ball but we created the better chances so we deserved to win, I guess.
“It shows the other side we have – we can control the game while defending.”
(Reporting by Simon Evans; editing by Tony Lawrence)