For Manchester City fans, it’s been a long time coming. When Pep Guardiola arrived at the club in 2016, the expectation was clear: Win Manchester City their first ever Champions League trophy. After four failed attempts, Guardiola is finally on the brink of achieving that goal, but why has it taken him so long?
Pep Guardiola is widely regarded as one of, if not, the best football managers of all time. Tactically he has revolutionised football with his unique style that combines intricate passing with positional rotation and an incredibly effective pressing system. During his reign at Barcelona, he won it all. Nothing could stop him and his unique partnership with Lionel Messi. However, without the Argentine he has struggled. Since he last won the Champions League in 2011 he has spent over £1bn at 3 European giants without winning it again.
When you compare that to other managers like Zinedine Zidane or Jurgen Klopp, it’s incredibly underwhelming. Both have very small net spends in comparison to Guardiola but have taken their teams to Champions League finals on multiple occasions over the last five years. So what has Guardiola lacked on the four occasions he was knocked out with Manchester City and why is this year different?
In the last few years, Guardiola has been hugely criticised for this, especially last year against Lyon. Manchester City were hot favourites and has spent the majority of that season playing in either a 4-3-3 or a 4-2-3-1. Inexplicably, in a one-legged tie with everything at stake, Pep switched to a three at the back. Presumably he was trying to match Lyon’s own three at the back formation, but it backfired massively. Individual errors from Ederson, Laporte and Sterling, among others, cost Man City and they lost 3-1.
This season was different. Pep has rotated a lot and changed his system, but he has been doing it to cope with a congested fixture schedule. But recently he has settled on an interesting approach where he uses one or two of De Bruyne, Bernardo and/or Foden as false nines. It’s unique, but effective and when the huge matches against PSG approached, Pep stuck to that working system and it paid off.
A Bit of Luck…
Every winning team needs some luck. Whether that’s provided by VAR, an opponent mistake, or a lucky deflection, it can be the difference between a Champions League final and another embarrassing knockout. This year, the luck fell the way of Manchester City. A rare error from Keylor Navas in the first leg allowed De Bruyne’s cross to find the back of net and a poor wall parted to allow Mahrez to hammer home a free kick.
Then came the disciplinary issues. PSG lost their heads and got a red card to key players in both legs. First Gana Gueye meaning he was suspended for the second leg, and then again at the Etihad for Di Maria forcing PSG to chase the game with 10 men. It probably also helps when PSG’s star man, Kylian Mbappe wasn’t fully fit in the first leg and was out injured in the second leg. That’s not to take anything away from City, they deserved their spot in the final, but a bit of luck always helps and they finally got some.
A Winning Mentality
Perhaps it was brought by Ruben Dias, perhaps it was encouraged by Guardiola, or perhaps someone else, but something has fired up these Manchester City players and the second leg proved that. Ruben Dias was a brick wall, he put his body on the line to block anything heading towards goal. Zinchenko, Stones and Walker were impressive too, that defensive unit seemed to have a real bond and an understanding between one another. That sort of mentality can get you through games and it can demoralise opposing attackers.
It’s a mentality that will serve you well in the final and Liverpool’s triumph over Tottenham in 2019 proved that. After grabbing an early goal, Liverpool were poor in possession and the game became sloppy. But while Tottenham dominated possession, the game began to suit Liverpool’s defensive unit. Tottenham were limited in the chances and Van Dijk and Alisson were incredible. Spurs struggled to open up the defence and became increasingly aware that they weren’t going to find a way to goal. Even when they weren’t performing well in possession, a resilient defence with a winning mentality can get you over the line.
So Manchester City fans, how are you feeling about the final? And what has changed this year to get you there which you didn’t have in previous years? This will be Manchester City’s best opportunity to win the Champions League, of course, but if they don’t will they be able to recover from such a demoralising low? Only time will tell. Let us know your thoughts in the comments.