Pep Guardiola’s wait for a third UEFA Champions League trophy as a manger has stretched into a new decade after Manchester City lost 1-0 to Chelsea in the final Sunday morning (AEST).
After 10 years of waiting, which included a hat-trick of semi final defeats with Bayern Munich, Guardiola looked set to finally get his hands on the trophy for the first time since 2010-11, when he was Barcelona manager.
Instead, he didn’t dare look at the piece of silverware as he walked past it in Porto with a runners-up medal around his neck.
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His City had just finished 19 points ahead of Chelsea in the Premier League and was understandably the strong favourite to win this year’s Champions League final.
But 90 minutes of high-stakes football with Europe’s biggest club prize on the line rewards the tactically astute — and Guardiola was again found wanting.
Eyebrows were raised before a ball was kicked with Guardiola starting an out-of-form Raheem Sterling and keeping his defensive midfielders Fernandinho and Rodri on the bench.
Instead, İlkay Gündoğan — who was City’s topscorer this season — was deployed in a holding role for the first time since the group stage of the competition, leaving Socceroos legend John Aloisi baffled.
“Why he did that, we don’t know. Only he can answer that, but I think it cost them,” Aloisi said on Optus Sport.
“Sterling lacked confidence, I’m surprised he started him, he hasn’t had a great season.
“And Gundogan not playing as high … it didn’t work because they weren’t able to create as much.”
Aloisi added: “I feel sorry for him (Guardiola).
“The biggest reason why I feel sorry for him — but he brought it upon himself — is that he overthinks things in certain games.”
Matildas great Heather Garriock was far less sympathetic.
“Really? I don’t feel sorry for him. He choked,” she said on the program.
“He’s one of the best managers in the world and his performance just wasn’t good enough. He failed the team.”
Sterling struggled in the final and was taken off in the 77th minute for Sergio Aguero, while City only produced one shot on target from 61 per cent possession. The lack of penetration was only made worse in the 60th minute when gun midfielder Kevin De Bruyne was forced from the field after a nasty headknock with Antonio Rudiger.
The result was a well-disciplined Chelsea backline holding firm to ensure Kai Havertz’ first-half strike would be the winner, giving the Blues their third win over City in six weeks.
Thomas Tuchel’s side stopped City’s FA Cup campaign in April’s semi-finals stage, while he also beat Guardiola in the league earlier this month on the way to a top-four spot.
City’s last win over Chelsea was a 3-1 triumph on January 4 — when Frank Lampard was still the club’s manager.
Aloisi and fellow Socceroos great Mark Schwarzer believe the Blues’ upturn in results under Tuchel played on Guardiola’s mind.
“I said last week heading into this that the two losses that he had against Chelsea actually put doubt in his mind and that’s why he changed (the team),” Aloisi said.
Schwarzer added: “I agree with Johnny. Pep Guardiola just overthought it.
“He hadn’t done it all the way through the Champions League. He waited until the final to do something different again and mess it up.
“I think that was costly. In the end, that cost them.”
Meanwhile, Sky Sports echoed the view in the UK, pointing to evidence that Guardiola has a tendency to overthink his tactics in the big games of his career.
“Privately, Guardiola is said to have described Bayern Munich’s semi-final defeat by Real Madrid in 2014 as his biggest tactical error. For that game, he twice changed his mind over the formation before the second leg – a game Bayern would go on to lose 4-0 at home,” the publication reported.
“Would it have been better to trust in the system that has served them so well and go with a specialist holding midfielder instead of Raheem Sterling?
“Guardiola would have escaped the blame had he done so but that is not in the nature of the most celebrated coach of his generation. His job, his responsibility, is to make a difference. He tried to do that. For the third time in six weeks, Thomas Tuchel had his number.”
In 60 games this season, only once did Guardiola not pick either Rodri or Fernandinho.
Rob Draper for The Mail on Sunday wrote that the power dynamics of English football may have shifted in the past two months — largely due to Guardiola’s influence.
“Three times he has taken on Thomas Tuchel this season. Three times, twice in crucial games, he has been undone by the German. When they first met, Tuchel was the eager apprentice in the relationship. Now he is the master,” Draper wrote.
He added: “And so the Catalan was, in a sense, hoist by his own petard.
“A fresh impetus for attacking football is what he brought to the game in 2008 when he took over at Barca and what he demonstrated almost to perfection ten years ago when he last won this trophy, eviscerating Manchester United at Wembley in 2011.
“And attacking football is what killed him here, both his zealous pursuit of it and in the influence he has had on a whole generation of coaches.”
‘WE’LL COME BACK’
Sunday morning brought to an end a 13-year wait for City to make the Champions League final under the reign of Abu Dhabi’s Sheikh Mansour, who has spent more than a billion pounds on his investment.
The club is now the seventh-consecutive team to lose in its first appearance at this stage, following on the footsteps of Paris Saint-Germain last year and Tottenham in 2019.
Guardiola did his best to hide his disappointment after the final, saying the loss will serve as a learning experience for his side.
“It is the first time we’re here, we’ll learn, we’ll come back,” Guardiola told French broadcaster RMC Sport.
“The players did everything, they wanted to do well, to win this competition, sometimes you perform well, sometimes not.”
Nonetheless, the pressure is now bound to ramp up on the City manager who, in five seasons in Manchester, has failed to deliver the club the one trophy it desperately craves.
Guardiola last year extended his contract at City until 2023.
Another renewal could hinge on finally ending his Champions League drought.
— With AFP