Last February, during a record-breaking 21-match winning streak in which Manchester City conceded just eight goals, he said: “The reason why [our defensive record is so good] is because 67 per cent of the time we have the ball. That is the main reason.
“If you have the ball as much as possible then the opponent does not have the ball.”
With that in mind, Guardiola should feel particularly pleased when he looks at the stats columns for the season so far.
If possession was a crucial factor in the rock-solid defence that proved the cornerstone our 2020-21 Premier League title triumph, then a quick glance at the numbers from the current campaign suggests City’s work with the ball is again aiding our efforts without.
Guardiola’s men top the Premier League for possession, number of passes and passing accuracy and have conceded the fewest shots, to leave us with the smallest xG (expected goals) against.
Six seasons into Guardiola’s tenure, it is no surprise to see City at the top of the possession charts.
It is, and always has been, central to the way we play under the Catalan and the defending champions are comfortably clear of their opponents at present.
City’s possession average across the opening 11 games is 64.08%, ahead of Liverpool (61.75%) and Marcelo Bielsa’s Leeds United (58.13%), who complete the top three.
We have completed 7095 passes, 414 more than Jurgen Klopp’s men (6681), who again rank second, and 842 more than league leaders Chelsea (6253), whilst the accuracy of our passing (88.85%) also sees us edge out the same two teams for top spot, with Thomas Tuchel’s side achieving 86.68% and Liverpool managing 85.65%.
If ever evidence was needed of the extent to which City starve our opponents of possession, it was provided in the most recent Manchester derby.
Such passages of play have become a real hallmark of City's style and we are the only team in the division to achieve more than 200 passing sequences of 10 or more
Our total of 221 leaves us well out in front ahead of Liverpool (194) and Brighton and Hove Albion (167).
As Guardiola highlighted last season, the benefits of dominating possession are not only felt in the final third.
Controlling possession limits the attacking threat of the opposition and it is no coincidence that City, the team who have more of the ball than anyone else in the Premier League, have also conceded the fewest number of shots.
We have faced 72 efforts in total, of which just 21 have been on target and again, our record is noticeably superior than our rivals.
Chelsea and Liverpool complete the top three in each category, with the Reds facing 109 shots (37 on target) and the West Londoners allowing 112 goal bound strikes (36 on target).
The average across all 20 Premier League sides is 143, though half the teams’ conceded shot count exceeds that figure.
Despite this, City cannot lay claim to having the best defensive record in the division.
Chelsea have that honour, with the four goals they have conceded two fewer than we have managed.
However, both clubs have kept seven clean sheets and Guardiola’s men boast a superior expected goals against rating.
xG, as it is often referred to, is a statistical measurement of the quality of goalscoring chances and the likelihood of them being scored, so when looking at it from a defensive point of view, it highlights the quality of the opportunities created against City and the chances of them being converted.
Our rating currently stands at 7.46 and we are the only side in the league sitting in single figures. Crystal Palace (10.8) rank second, and Chelsea (11.79) complete the top three.
With more than two thirds of the season still to play, there is a long way to go as City bid to defend our Premier League crown, but it bodes well that the principles that yielded so much success last season remain as strong as ever.
Stats correct as of 15 November 2021.