Pep Guardiola is widely regarded as the finest coach of his generation. He’s been incredibly successful across his time at Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Manchester City and been blessed with some incredible players across his managerial career.
“I was a lucky person being in Barcelona, Bayern and here, I train incredible players,” Guardiola told ManCity.com.
But which have been his most trusted lieutenants since he first took a coaching role with Barcelona B back in 2007? We’ve taken a look at Guardiola’s all-time most-used XI. You won’t be surprised that this is an absolutely incredible team.
Victor Valdes was Guardiola’s trusty No.1 during his four years in charge of Barcelona, but Ederson has recently surpassed the former Spain international as the Catalan tactician’s most-used goalkeeper.
While Guardiola had no doubts about who to choose between the sticks at Barcelona at Bayern, it was a problem position in his early days at Man City. He inherited Joe Hart but didn’t trust him to play out from the back, while replacement Claudio Bravo was erratic and error-prone.
Only after a year at the Etihad did Guardiola find his man. Brazilian ‘keeper Ederson arrived for a £34million fee in the summer of 2017 and has never looked back.
He’s made 284 appearances for City and has been integral to them winning four Premier League titles in the last five years.
RB: Kyle Walker
Dani Alves was a key player for four successive seasons under Guardiola at the Camp Nou, but now England international Walker is into his sixth campaign playing under Pep, having arrived alongside Ederson back in 2017.
The 32-year-old right-back remains a firm favourite.
CB: John Stones
One of Guardiola’s first seven summer signings from when he arrived in Manchester back in 2016, Stones hasn’t always been the manager’s first-choice option in the centre of defence but has worked hard to play a role throughout.
With 223 appearances for City, the 28-year-old has played more for Guardiola than any other centre-back. He remains contracted at the Etihad until 2026, so expect him to add plenty to that tally in the coming years.
Guardiola: "John Stones has more balls than everybody here in this room." pic.twitter.com/NS9omAEeAp
— Sam Lee (@SamLee) March 19, 2017
CB: Gerard Pique
Alongside getting rid of the likes of Deco and Ronaldinho, one of the key decisions Guardiola made when he took over at Barcelona was to bring home La Masia graduate Pique.
The defender made his debut for his boyhood club under Guardiola back in 2008. The first 183 of Pique’s total 616 appearances for La Blaugrana came under the Catalan.
The pair won everything together, but according to Pique their relationship soured in the end.
“For the first three seasons, we had a phenomenal relationship. I still revere Pep as a manager. But the truth is, it was an extremely hard time,” he wrote in The Players’ Tribune.
“He wanted his players to be obsessed with football 24 hours a day, and at that point in my life, I didn’t understand it. I wasn’t as committed to that philosophy. Pep simply didn’t trust me anymore, and the crucial moment was when he decided not to play me against Real Madrid in the league.
“That was crushing to me. I started to think, is this it? Is the dream of playing for Barca over? Is this how fast it can go away?”
LB: Eric Abidal
Having leaned on Gael Clichy, Fabian Delph, Oleksandr Zinchenko, Joao Cancelo and now young Rico Lewis at Manchester City, you have to go back to Barcelona to find Guardiola’s most tried-and-trusted left-back.
Abidal arrived at the Camp Nou the summer before Guardiola was appointed and left a year after the coach.
It was during their time together that the France international was sidelined after being diagnosed with a tumour on his liver, but he miraculously returned to start in what arguably remains Guardiola’s magnum opus – the 2011 Champions League final victory over Manchester United.
La Masia’s Sergio Busquets helped define the tiki-taka style that Guardiola’s Barcelona conquered the world with, but former Man City stalwart Fernandinho ended up making more appearances under the coach.
It took a few transfer windows for Guardiola to shape City’s squad into his image, but Fernandinho was already there and did brilliantly to adapt his game to the tactician’s high demands.
The Brazilian won five league titles in eight years at the Etihad, four of which came under the Catalan.
“You made me fall in love with football again,” Fernandinho told Guardiola when he left City in 2022.
CM: Kevin De Bruyne
The only player inherited by Guardiola that remains at Man City in 2023, De Bruyne has been at the centre of the club’s recent years of dominance.
The Belgian recently became the first player to reach 300 appearances for Guardiola. He’s notched 79 goals and 135 assists for City in that time – no player has set up more goals for Guardiola.
“He’s so important,” Guardiola said of his playmaker in April 2022. “He is the best in the world in this kind of running and transition.
“He can run and break the space for the opponent. It’s devastating. He is really, really good.
“Everyone knows it – this isn’t the first season he’s played in the Premier League.”
CM: Ilkay Gundogan
During his time at Bayern Munich, Guardiola saw that Gundogan possessed the mix of energy and technical quality that are perfect for his idea of football. And so he signed him from Borussia Dortmund when he arrived at Man City in 2016.
A horrific ACL injury kept the midfielder sidelined during his debut season, but he did wonderfully well to recover and play a role that’s only increased in importance over the years.
Only two players have made more appearances under Guardiola – it’ll be interesting to see what’s next for the 32-year-old with his contract up in the summer.
FWR: Lionel Messi
While Riyad Mahrez & Bernardo Silva have registered more appearances under Guardiola than Messi, we’re including the Barcelona legend for this XI because he made more starts and clocked up considerably more minutes.
It just wouldn’t feel right to have Messi missing from this team, given what they achieved together at that unforgettable, all-conquering Barcelona side between 2008 and 2012.
The Argentinian scored 211 goals(!) and notched 94 assists in 219 appearances for Guardiola’s Barcelona. They won the lot together at the Camp Nou.
Pep Guardiola talking about Lionel Messi to his Manchester City players. 🐐pic.twitter.com/ni39zoW7L8
— Roy Nemer (@RoyNemer) August 4, 2022
ST: Gabriel Jesus
From Zlatan Ibrahimovic to Robert Lewandowski and Erling Haaland today, Guardiola has had a funny history with traditional strikers and rarely settled on one across several seasons as he has with players in other positions.
Jesus is something of an exception. The Brazilian wasn’t the most prolific player in terms of end product – though 95 goals and 46 assists in 236 appearances at Guardiola’s City is respectable enough – but his movement and understanding of the game made him a more natural fit than classic No.9s.
He’s now proving just how useful he can be in Arsenal’s title charge. A mistake to let him go?
FWL: Raheem Sterling
Only De Bruyne has made more appearances under Guardiola than Sterling. The forward notched 120 goals and 85 assists in 292 appearances under Guardiola, which is a brilliant return, so the abrupt decision to let him go to Chelsea certainly raised eyebrows.
“Raheem has been the pace and we are a team that make all the passes and he makes this explosion. There’s something incredible, unpredictable [about] his runs in the right, left,” Guardiola told reporters after Sterling secured a £55million move to Stamford Bridge last summer.
“I saw how he grew up in his ambition to score goals, to make an assist, and [became] more hungry, and more, in the good terms, selfish to say, I want more goals.
“He’s a guy who can play every three days, he would never get injured. He was top.”