Guardiola's 'tinkering' raises questions once again

Spaniard's decision-making in the biggest games in Europe will be judged as City manager was outfoxed by German Tuchel


REUTERS May 30, 2021

PORTO:

It was billed as the night when Pep Guardiola would lead Manchester City to their first Champions League title but it ended with questions again being asked about the Spaniard's decision-making in the biggest games in Europe.

City were expected to beat Chelsea in this year's final but instead they lost 1-0 on Saturday courtesy of a first-half goal by Kai Havertz after Spaniard Guardiola was outfoxed by his German counterpart Thomas Tuchel.

Guardiola's City have become the dominant force in English football, winning three of the past four Premier League titles with a wonderful style of play, but for the past two seasons they have been favourites to win the Champions League and stumbled when it mattered.

Last season Guardiola departed from his settled approach for the quarter-final, single leg game in Lisbon against unfancied Lyon, switching to an unfamiliar three-man defence as City fell to a shock 3-1 defeat.

On Saturday, he shuffled his cards in an attempt to foil the tactics of Tuchel but in doing so left his side without the key elements that had taken them to their first Champions League final.

Ilkay Gundogan was selected ahead of Brazilian Fernandinho or Spaniard Rodri in the holding role in midfield.

Without the protection they normally enjoy, City's defence was exposed early and often by Chelsea and if striker Timo Werner been sharper the point would have been made emphatically in the first half hour.

As if to highlight the absence of Fernandinho's solidity, strength, ball-winning and ability to lead a transition, Chelsea's N'Golo Kante, the French World Cup winner, delivered an outstanding display of just those qualities.

The other switch that raised eyebrows was the recalling of out of form winger Raheem Sterling on the left while Kevin De Bruyne, arguably the best central midfielder in the world, played almost as an orthodox centre-forward before he went off with a head injury on the hour.

Guardiola said his selections had been positive ones designed to win the game.

"I did the best selection I could... I picked the best selection to win the game and the players know it," he said.

Guardiola, who won the Champions League twice as manager of his first club Barcelona but none since 2011, is likely to face criticism for making unnecessary changes in approach and personnel although he was still looking at the positives post match.

"I would like to say it was an exceptional season for us," he said.

"It was a dream for us to be here, unfortunately we could not win.

"For most of us in this club it is the first time here, but we work to come back one day."

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