How will Pep Guardiola, Antonio Conte adapt to the Premier League?
They are the ideas men, but they are also the idealist and the pragmatist. Pep Guardiola has been the most influential tactician of the last decade. Antonio Conte was the most inspired at Euro 2016. The new Manchester City manager innovates and experiments. His Chelsea counterpart is more strategic and less romantic, designed with victory in mind.
Guardiola has secured notable triumphs and won 73 percent of his matches without the victory appearing to be his only objective. He has managed arguably the greatest and most beautiful to watch) club side in history, the Barcelona group of 2009-12. Conte coached an Italy team widely described as its least talented in half a century. They brilliantly dismembered Spain, whose personnel and playing style are still a testament to Guardiola's game plan.
Now they have both arrived in England with the added complication that if Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich had got his way, Guardiola would have been at Stamford Bridge. Instead, masters of detail are rivals. Together, they ought to raise the standards of the Premier League, making it tactically better and, theoretically, leading to more games being decided in the dugout.
But that poses the question as to how they'll achieve it. Will they use blueprints developed in Barcelona, Munich and Turin, methods that worked with Catalonia's, Bavaria's and Italy's finest? Or will they turn to something both new to them and yet more familiar to both British audiences and Premier League players?
Both Guardiola and Conte have argued that they are not inflexible ideologues. Guardiola marked his unveiling at the Etihad Stadium by presenting himself as an evolutionary, not a revolutionary. He stated he was a humble figure who will adapt to the English game, someone who needed to customise himself to the players at his disposal. There were, he said, only "two or three things I will not change," just a few principles he has set in stone.
Guardiola also refuted Javier Mascherano's suggestion that it takes a year to adapt to his brand of football. "That is not true," Guardiola said. "What we want is so simple. What we want is so simple: when the opponent has the ball, take it back as soon as possible. When you have it, move it as much as possible and create as many chances as possible."
If Guardiola has been brought in to transform City, he has instead begun by portraying himself as the continuity candidate. Beyond talk of deploying midfielder Fernandinho as a centre-back and use of a back three for part of Thursday's 1-1 draw with Borussia Dortmund, his most unconventional ideas -- the 3-diamond-3, 3-1-4-2, 3-3-3-1 or even 2-3-5 formations, all of which he tested at Bayern Munich -- may be on the back-burner until he has first established a winning habit.
Unlike David Alaba and Rafinha, it's hard to imagine the City full-backs thrust diagonally forward as wing-halves to operate in front of the central defenders. Instead, their duties may be familiar. Guardiola has spent much of his first two games favouring the 4-2-3-1 formation Manuel Pellegrini employed for much of last season.
The formation may be the same, however, but the implementation will be different. At the end of Guardiola's first season in Germany, the statisticians worked out that his Bayern's defensive line was, on average, 45 yards from their own goal. In his predecessor Jupp Heynckes' final season, it had been 36 yards. The chances are that City will push up further, necessitating Joe Hart to operate as more of a sweeper-keeper in the style of Manuel Neuer or Victor Valdes.
As his teams have always averaged at least 65 percent of possession and City had the ball for 55.2 percent of their league games last season, it is likely they will play a more possession-based game, probably with Ilkay Gundogan operating as a pivote. More time will surely be devoted to creating angles for a pass. Guardiola's willingness to adjust to the culture of English football may also result in more traditional tactics; his Bayern team were more direct than Barcelona, indeed averaging the fifth-highest number of accurate long balls per game in last season's Bundesliga (admittedly, they were runaway leaders in the chart for short passes).
One change appears certain to be accelerated but has already begun. Under Roberto Mancini, City's nominal wide men, David Silva and Samir Nasri, came infield at every opportunity. Under Pellegrini, Raheem Sterling offered more natural width and Jesus Navas hugged the right touchline. Guardiola wants wingers to make the pitch as wide as possible, at least until they enter the final third, as it creates more space in central positions. In Nolito (already signed) and Leroy Sane (hopefully on the way), he should have the players to make the pitch as big as possible.
This system hints at Silva playing infield, which highlights another favourite tactic of Guardiola's: the false nine. Lionel Messi became the most prolific one ever, but it was notable that with a genuine No. 9 at Bayern, Robert Lewandowski, Guardiola used an orthodox striker. Sergio Aguero's position seems safe, yet the intriguing element will be offered in his absence: Silva, Sterling and Kevin de Bruyne in particular are potential false nines in the City squad. Guardiola could also opt to use a 4-2-3-1 as Pellegrini did at the end of his reign, fielding two strikers with Kelechi Iheanacho behind Aguero.
This last part is unlikely, and it's also an area where Conte and Guardiola differ.
The Italian is set to pair centre-forwards at Chelsea -- probably Diego Costa and Michy Batshuayi -- as he often has done, whether with Bari, Juventus or Italy. It is a break with Chelsea's past; for the past dozen years, their default shape has been a one-striker system. Since the early weeks of Jose Mourinho's first stint in charge, their only real (and mismatched) partnership occurred when Abramovich bought Andriy Shevchenko to partner Didier Drogba; even when the Ivorian and Nicolas Anelka played together, it was usually with the Frenchman on the right.
No side has won the English title while regularly selecting three centre-backs since Arsenal in 1989, and while his Juventus and Italy sides usually played 3-5-2, Conte now seems intent on preferring a 4-4-2 that can be described as 4-2-4; it was the formation he favoured at Bari. Having largely eschewed wingers in the subsequent five years, he will now select two. Conte called himself a "tailor" at his first press conference at Stamford Bridge but is now "anglicising" himself, tailoring his principles to his surroundings. "I adapt my idea of football to my players, not adapt my players in my idea of football," he told ESPN FC this week.
Conte's system may prompt comparisons with the reigning champions, Leicester, and not just because N'Golo Kante is a common denominator. Yet while Claudio Ranieri has proved it is possible to prosper with what had seemed a discredited tactic, Kante's energy can compensate for a numerical disadvantage. And the 4-4-2 offers a defensive structure that can limit a strategist's options.
Conte's Italy were wonderfully flexible, adapting their shape anywhere from 3-3-4 in possession to 4-4-2 without the ball, but as an out-and-out formation it can be harder to create overloads in midfield or get players in space between the lines, whether vertical or horizontal. It was that, as much as anything else, that enabled Italy to outwit and outmanoeuvre more talented teams who used a specialist holding midfielder and roving box-to-box midfielders. Conte may have restricted his options to be clever.
Perhaps he is trying to be more English than the English; Guardiola, too, is suggesting that his Dutch-influenced, Spanish passing game will be more British than his previous teams. With only two central midfielders, it is safe to assume Chelsea will have less possession than City. A shared feature that should appeal to Premier League crowds should be their work rate: Guardiola's pressing game requires it while Conte's Chelsea, particularly in the absence of European football, ought to be fit enough to outrun opponents.
There will be an emphasis on the physical, yet Guardiola and Conte are managers with a focus on the technical and the tactical. They have devised schemes to win Serie A, La Liga and the Bundesliga. It is very possible one will secure the Premier League, but it will be interesting to see how native or how foreign their winning ideas will be.
Richard Jolly covers the Premier League and Champions League for ESPN FC. Twitter: @RichJolly.