PORTO, Portugal – While Thomas Tuchel and Chelsea were partying, Pep Guardiola walked right past the Champions League trophy without even looking at it. Manchester City were outplayed in a 1-0 Champions League loss and this was the next time Guardiola had made it to the European Cup since he last won it 10 years ago.
Guardiola might as well have been a million miles away, with the city manager bowing his head with the vice medal in hand. It was probably a mixture of anger and despair, but it was also probably a great deal of regret, considering how he – not for the first time – considered his line-up and tactics if simplicity had made sense.
“I did what I thought was the best decision [with my selection]“Said Guardiola after the game.
However, this was further evidence that the two-time Champions League winner, while undoubtedly a genius as a coach, has a habit of picking the wrong time and place to experiment.
Instead, it was Tuchel who caught the booty, who kept his approach simple and stuck to tried and tested methods. In the stadium where Guardiola’s old rival Jose Mourinho built his first Champions League winning team with FC Porto, Chelsea used a counter game based on quick breaks from the defensive to knock City out for the third time in less than two. Blow to land months.
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Kai Havertz’s 42nd-minute goal, scored when the Chelsea club record of £ 72 million ($ 102.2 million) took advantage of a gaping hole in the city’s defense before goalkeeper Ederson scored, was enough to make the European Cup to Stamford Bridge for the second time and leaving City still on their first triumph.
City champions of England for the third time in four seasons and were a strong favorite to win Portugal despite losing to Chelsea in the Premier League and FA Cup most recently. But a flaw has reappeared that has plagued Guardiola since he coached Lionel Messi, Xavi & Co. at Barcelona: victory or defeat.
Guardiola’s tactic was geared towards City scoring early and then taking control of the possession game and turning Chelsea in for submission. But just like in the previous Champions League outcomes against Monaco, Liverpool and Lyon, there were too many personnel and conceptual changes that made the players unsure what to do.
It was only the second time this season that City played without a defensive midfielder; Fernandinho and Rodri were both named as substitutes, which meant that Ilkay Gündogan, who spent most of this season in attacking midfield, was chosen to fill the gap in front of the back four.
Guardiola later said that “Ilkay has played that role many times,” adding, “I picked a team to win the game.” But the former Borussia Dortmund player was simply overrun by Chelsea’s energetic attackers: Havertz, Mason Mount and Timo Werner.
While the center strikers Sergio Agüero and Gabriel Jesus were also on the bench, Guardiola chose the out of shape Bernardo Silva and Raheem Sterling. Bernardo’s pick was supposed to provide City with an extra creative player to keep Chelsea down, but the Portuguese midfielder was anonymous before joining in the second half.
The lack of impact could be said of Sterling, whose selection on the left took Phil Foden away from where he has been so effective over the past few weeks. Sterling didn’t finish the game either.
Most damaging, however, was Guardiola’s decision to use Kevin De Bruyne as the false nine, which pulled City’s best player out of his preferred midfield role and left him confused about where exactly to play. A serious collision with Antonio Rüdiger at one hour forced De Bruyne to end.
With just one shot on goal, City was unrecognizable as Chelsea pushed, harassed and disturbed. Thiago Silva’s injury before half-time wasn’t a setback either; Each of Tuchel’s players delivered at least an 8/10 performance, with the immense N’Golo Kante dominating the game and deservedly winning the man of the game.
While Tuchel won the Champions League within four months of replacing Frank Lampard at Stamford Bridge, the wait is on for City and Guardiola, who were hired as differentiators in that competition but have become prone to becoming themselves stumble moment.
Maybe that just wasn’t the year of the City. After all, they were initially banned from the competition that season and then found guilty by UEFA of violating Financial Fair Play rules. After this sentence was successfully overturned on appeal, winning the European Cup might have been too much of a turnaround.
And they will come again. Having invested nearly £ 2 billion in players since buying the club in 2008, city owner Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed al Nahyan, who did not make it to the final, will continue to fund the team until and after the Champions League is finally won .
“It was the first time that we were in this phase,” said Guardiola. “Hopefully we’ll be back here in the future.”
But as the defeated City boss walked past the trophy at the end of that game, Sir Alex Ferguson’s famous halftime speech during the 1999 final came to mind.
“At the end of this game, the European Cup will be two meters from you and you won’t even be able to touch it if we lose,” said Ferguson. “And for many of you, this will be the next thing you will ever achieve.”
Manchester United famously bounced back from a lost goal to beat Bayern Munich that night in Barcelona for a triple that City appeared to have reached at some point this season this season.
Instead, Tuchel and Chelsea tripled them multiple times, leaving the feeling that if Guardiola continues to tarnish his judgment on the biggest stage, it may be one of his successors who is finally enjoying the feeling of bringing the trophy back to the Etihad Stadium.