A week ago, Pep Guardiola did it again: He took the more talented squad into a match, overcomplicated his tactics and made the team worse than the sum of their parts.
When the lineups were announced for the match at Arsenal, the pregame XI had Bernardo Silva, an attacking midfielder, playing at left-back. Surely, this was just another example of the inadequacy of the static presentation of the soccer lineup. Players, especially Silva, are in constant motion -- and where they position themselves with the ball and without the ball often look drastically different. With Kyle Walker listed as City's nominal right back, this would turn into more of a back three with Silva functioning much further forward... right?
Then the match started and, sure enough, Bernardo Silva, who had never played a game at fullback in his six seasons with Manchester City, was playing like your run-of-the-mill left-sided fullback. Tucking into the back four when Arsenal were in position and tasked with shutting down perhaps the best right winger in the league, Bukayo Saka.
It went about as poorly as you might expect. Silva, according to the site FBRef, is 5-foot-8, 141 pounds, and he doesn't have the kind of up-and-down athleticism required from most modern fullbacks. Saka had no trouble getting forward, while Silva committed three fouls in the first half and finally received a yellow card in the 46th minute. Although the match was tied come halftime, Arsenal had dominated the flow of the game and only conceded after a poor back-pass from Takehiro Tomiyasu.
Fifteen minutes into the second half, Guardiola took Riyad Mahrez off for Manuel Akanji, bumped Nathan Ake out to left-back, and pushed Silva into the midfield. With their players in their more traditional positions, City took back control of the game -- and at least for a few days, the title race -- en route to a comfy 3-1 win.
The lesson, for Guardiola or for any other coach with the more talented players, seemed to be: keep it simple, stupid. Just put your best players out there in their best positions, and you'll probably win the game. But the more I thought about it, the more I started to wonder whether Pep wasn't circling around a bigger idea: What if some of these players have been playing in the wrong positions all along?