Uno, dos, tres: Pep Guardiola has a habit of eventually experimenting with back-threes

It's already reared its head at Manchester City ahead of the Barcelona match

Uno, dos, tres: Pep Guardiola has a habit of eventually experimenting with back-threes

Picture by Simon Cooper PA Wire/PA Images

As Manchester City prepare for a mammoth Champions League encounter against Barcelona on Wednesday night, the result and performance will be a real indication about how far they have come under Pep Guardiola.

For they are in the midst of a slight hiccup, with a very positive start to the season followed by some below-par results with draws against Celtic (3-3) and Everton (1-1) as well as a loss to Tottenham (2-0).

On Wednesday they face the forward trio of Lionel Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez and a club that City aspire to emulate both in terms of success in reputation.

The hiring of Guardiola as well as ex-Barca officials Director of Football Txiki Begiristain and Chief Executive Officer Ferran Soriano is part of that process.

City are only at the beginning of the journey but at least know that their new manager was part of the process of resurrecting Barcelona's fortunes in 2008 by going back to tradition in some ways en route to dominance in Spain and Europe with a style admired by many.

It is now four years since Guardiola stepped away from Barcelona's Nou Camp after a playing career which began at the same club and saw him spend four years in charge as manager.

When he left in 2012, the man who would then take the reins at Bayern Munich was searching for a fresh start. 

The battles with Jose Mourinho, while the Portuguese was at Real Madrid, had proved draining even if Guardiola had tended to come out on top more often in head-to-head contests.

In Martin Pernau's book Pep Confidential, that sense of being worn out is touched upon by Guardiola himself, stating that "I left Barcelona because I was worn out. I explained how I felt to the president in October 2011.

"There was no change of heart after that. So it would have made no sense at all for me to start changing the squad. I knew I was leaving! The facts of the matter are that we won four titles that year and were playing better than ever, with the 3-4-3 we used against Real Madrid and the 3-7-0 I opted for in the Club World Cup.

"We were playing brilliantly but I was on my knees and had no new tactical ideas left. That was why I left. There was no other reason."

The 3-4-3 is a tactical shape that had been seen increasingly in the 2011-12 season, even if 4-3-3 remained the staple during his reign.

And as this Dutch TV footage shows, it is also rooted in Cruyffian principles in a way: 

In essence, with Cesc Fabregas newly signed for Arsenal and his role not defined, it meant an extra spot in midfield that he could fit into.

The back-three was also experimented on occasion while at Bayern Munich in his final two seasons of his three year reign.

And 13 matches into his Man City reign, the back-three has already reared its head as he took on his old Barca team-mate and friend Ronald Koeman of Everton on Saturday.

The 1-1 draw saw the system used with Gael Clichy, John Stones and Nicolas Otamendi nominally in that back-three.

And as ESPN tactical contributor Michael Cox noted, Ronald Koeman was not surprised by Guardiola's move to a back-three, with the manager himself quoted as saying, "I spoke yesterday to the rest of my technical staff because I know my good friend Pep. I said maybe we have to expect three defenders" and admitting that he had envisaged two approaches depending on Pep's choices.

Whether he risks using it against Barcelona is another matter entirely however, with City still adapting to what Guardiola wants and facing the most terrifying forward trio in the modern game.