How Guardiola's tactical tweak delivered win that secured title

By Alex Keble 19 May 2024
Premier League - Manchester City v West Ham United

Alex Keble explains how Spaniard changed his approach for 3-1 victory over West Ham

Related Articles
Foden: We’ve put ourselves into the history books
Watch Man City lift the 2023/24 Premier League Trophy
Arteta: We want more and we will get it

How fitting that in this unprecedented era of Manchester City dominance the final day should turn out to be a stroll in the park.

It took 78 seconds for Phil Foden to produce the moment of genius that put Man City in front and from then on they never wavered; nor even really had to get out of third gear.

Title race

Position Pos Club Played Pl GD Points Pts
1 Man City MCI 38 +62 91
2 Arsenal ARS 38 +62 89
View More

It looked easy. It so often does with City. That was nine Premier League wins in a row and 23 matches unbeaten to win the 2023/24 title and become the first team in English football history to win four top-flight titles in a row.

Just before the break Mohammed Kudus’s overhead kick, coinciding with Takehiro Tomiyasu’s equaliser for Arsenal over at Emirates Stadium, gave the briefest hope of drama. But in truth there was never any doubt.

Not after the second Foden goal, and even if the odd Man City fan spent half-time pondering over a nightmare scenario that nobody really thought possible, Rodri put the match to bed on the hour mark.

There was no jeopardy after that, after yet another Rodri strike in a crucial match. West Ham United had one shot on goal in the second 45 minutes and barely even made it into the City half.

In fact, so difficult and frustrating was West Ham’s afternoon that Tomas Soucek couldn’t resist handling the ball into the net when it fell to him from a set-piece.

Any tiny heart flutters inside the Etihad were quickly calmed by a simple VAR check and ordinary service was resumed.

That being said, there is nothing ordinary about this particular title, about the fourth in a row.

That no English side has ever done it before – not Arsenal in the 1930s, not Liverpool in the 1970s or 1980s, nor Manchester United in the 1990s – speaks to the scale of this achievement.

Pep Guardiola has broken records in England before but this one is surely his best.

It takes so much more than just technical brilliance – than being the best team in the country – to start from scratch year after year, maintain their standards, and find the hunger to do it again.

It is final evidence, as if we needed it, that Guardiola’s City side are one of the greatest England has ever seen.

Here’s how Man City beat West Ham, and why Arsenal can hold their heads up high following their win against Everton.

West Ham’s 5-4-1 shape invites City on

David Moyes does not have a good record against Guardiola because his tactical approach to facing the Catalan has not changed.

These days, the best way to face this Man City is to show aggression: press hard, be bold, and look to ruffle their feathers, because there is a soft centre that can occasionally be got at on the break.

That is how Aston Villa beat them 1-0 in December, and how Tottenham Hotspur came close in the midweek game that effectively decided the title.

But West Ham tend to sit ultra-deep and refused to engage the Man City players until they reached the final third. That usually spells trouble.

The issue, as we have seen before, is that by packing the penalty area with bodies gaps inevitably open on the edge of the box.

And the issue was exacerbated on Sunday by Moyes’s decision to move from a 4-2-3-1 to a 5-4-1, probably influenced by the absence of Jarrod Bowen. It therefore removed a central midfielder who might have closed down the City players finding those pockets of space.

Guardiola predicts Hammers’ approach with KDB-Foden partnership

Guardiola knew this was coming, having faced the same tactical shape against Moyes’ West Ham numerous times before.

That’s why he selected Foden and Kevin De Bruyne together as twin No 8s, an extremely rare sighting but the right way to make the most of those edge-of-the-box spaces that open when West Ham sink too deep.

On top of that, it looked as though Guardiola instructed his players to shoot on sight, hence their 11 shots from outside the box.

The first one came after 78 seconds and was an instant reward for Guardiola’s tactical read on Moyes.

Foden received the ball in far too much space because West Ham had eight players in the area just 70 seconds into the contest. Soucek and James Ward-Prowse were too deep, giving Foden the chance to beat Ward-Prowse and find room for the shot.

Foden goal v WHU

Rodri’s goal was similarly the result of West Ham sitting too deep and Guardiola telling his players to have a go from distance.

Arsenal's deserved win does fans proud

Over at the Emirates, Everton were far tougher opponents, but Kai Havertz’s goal, courtesy of a rare quick transition, was in keeping with Arsenal’s ruthless streak throughout the 2023/24 season.

They have finished on 89 points – their second-highest Premier League total after the 90 earned in their "Invincible" 2003/04 – by having a clinical edge, and on Sunday they struggled to break through Everton’s resistance until a late winner that caught the Toffees stretched and out of position for the first time.

They seized the moment and got the job done; another sign of their new maturity under Mikel Arteta.

It wasn’t enough in the end, but Arsenal supporters will have left the stadium proud of their team’s efforts – and perhaps not too disappointed on the day. After all, it’s the hope that kills you, so it was perhaps merciful that Foden scored so early.

There were a few moments of giddy celebration after Kudus scored, when fake news of a West Ham second briefly spread around Emirates Stadium, but aside from that the focus was almost entirely on the game in front of them. It had to be.

And eventually the players delivered, ensuring they finished only two points behind a Man City side who, as a consequence, we now know could not have afforded to drop a single point across those final nine Premier League wins.

That is the outrageous standard Man City have set. To beat Guardiola you have to be almost perfect.

Arsenal are not the first team to find that out; not the first team to rue the odd result, the odd dropped point, and wonder what might have been.

They probably won’t be the last. Man City are the Premier League champions – yet again.

In one sense, Arsenal came close. But as the titles stack up, as Man City celebrate their sixth in seven years, it is more accurate to say Guardiola’s team are in a league of their own.

Latest Videos

More Videos

You have been entered into the competition. You will receive email confirmation of your entry with further details.

You have already entered this competition. Please check your email for further information.

You have been entered into the competition. You will receive email confirmation of your entry with further details.

Create a Premier League account


You are logged in as

Enter your details to submit your entry.