The brilliance of Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City is that they are always one step ahead of their opponents, even if that opponent has 11 men behind the ball.

Sooner or later, City will break you down, wait for the mistake, and end any resistance. If a team dared to try and play them on the break, they will often use that to their advantage and exploit the space left to ruthless effect. Only a few teams have been able to successfully stop City from getting what they want.

Even without a striker for the best part of two years, City have turned a weakness into a strength, by getting more forwards and midfielders into the box to increase the chances of scoring. This most recent title win could be one of the most impressive under Guardiola given the tactical innovations he’s had to find.

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However, as the rest of the Premier League look to catch City and end their five years of dominance, there have been previous signs that more and more teams have finally learned how to stop them. Look at 2019/20, when an injury-hampered City were no match for Liverpool as a quiet summer failed to help the Blues build on their back-to-back titles.

Three years on, and City are in the same position, having won two titles in a row and looking to make it three in the face of an ominous-looking Liverpool threat. City will discover the same thing they did in 2019 next year – that sides could be better prepared to face them because they have more experience of how they play.

So City can either trust that their players are more experienced themselves and have enough quality to look for a third title in succession, or they can change things up and look for another reinvention to keep the Premier League guessing again.

With Erling Haaland arriving, along with Julian Alvarez, City’s new approach looks clear as they will go from two seasons without a striker, to having two natural, prolific frontmen at their disposal. The news this week that City have already decided to keep Alvarez in the squad rather than loan him out suggests the club will be fully committed to a new striker-led system.

When Haaland was confirmed, Guardiola rubbished the idea that the Norwegian wouldn’t fit in his system, saying: “I hear that he’s not going to adapt to the way we play. I would like to ask how is the way we play? I’m pretty sure they don’t know it.

“Julian is coming, we’re going to help him to adapt well. I think the players when they are good and normally it happens in these type of clubs — they have good vibes and energy to stay positive to understand and to help. Our way to play is so simple.

“I’m pretty sure [Haaland will adapt]. I have to know him to give a real opinion and work with him. But when he scores his amount of goals it is because he is good and intuitive.”

In another interview, Guardiola added: “We have to try to play good. I never thought the whole defensive situation depends on a central defender, nor the goals we score should depend on a striker. He has scored a lot of goals in his career and we are going to help him through the game have more chances to score goals.

“We are not going to give him responsibility to score goals. We have to win games. To win, we need everyone working the right way to arrive as much as possible and as much as we can arrive there we can do it.”

Even chairman Khaldoon Al Mubarak spoke of the new signings, revealing they were the result of a two-year search to replace Sergio Aguero. Khaldoon added that City were attracted to Haaland due to his attacking versatility, and referred to Alvarez as ‘one of the most talented young strikers in South America.’ They will be used as out-and-out strikers, but will be able to adapt to City’s patient build-up and possession-based attack.

It will require a change in approach, which is natural after playing 18-months with a false nine. Kevin De Bruyne said as much this week, suggesting that Haaland will ‘help us grow as a team’. He also hinted that Haaland’s job will be to get on the end of his quality balls into the box, increasing his own assist count.

And Jack Grealish has said his attacking colleagues are already relishing Haaland’s arrival, saying: “I’m sure he will have a good understanding with Kevin de Bruyne, Phil Foden, Raheem (Sterling), everyone in those forward positions. I’m looking forward to playing with him. Who wouldn’t be?”

So with City already looking for how to implement Haaland and Alvarez, acknowledging there will have to be a change in style as well as the new signings adapting to Guardiola, the rest of the league should consider themselves warned.

Just as they may think they know how to deal with City, the club are making sure they will always remain that one step ahead of the opposition. Even if doing so is as simple as signing a striker, or two.

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