Guardiola's pursuit of attacking perfection came back to haunt him

Pep Guardiola’s zealous pursuit of attacking perfection came back to haunt him as Man City fail to deliver his elusive third Champions League crown… Thomas Tuchel was once his eager apprentice but here the Chelsea boss was the master

  • Chelsea defeated Manchester City 1-0 in the Champions League final in Porto
  • Pep Guardiola was willing to fight on the hill of all-out attack – but he died
  • A third European success for the Catalan manager continues to evade him 
  • Thomas Tuchel was one of the new generation of coaches inspired by Guardiola
  • But in the end, Guardiola was hoist by his own petard – and wrong game plan 

It was perhaps a fitting legacy for Pep Guardiola.

He stood on the cusp of joining a trio of greats in the pantheon on the game. Only Bob Paisley, Carlo Ancelotti and Zinedine Zidane have won this trophy three times.

So when Guardiola managed it twice, in 2009 and 2011, in the first three years of his coaching career, we imagined records would quickly be torn up and re-written by the ambitious young Catalan.

Pep Guardiola’s third Champions League crown remains elusive after a 1-0 loss to Chelsea

It was a night of misery for the Manchester City manager in Porto as his game plan was wrong

Guardiola was forced to make a walk past the trophy he craved wearing a runners-up medal

The Chelsea players sportingly gave Guardiola and his City team a guard of honour 

Yet it hasn’t been that way. No matter the money he has the spend, no matter the size of the European giant he manages, he can’t quite get over the line. 

Nor can Manchester City. The Champions League remains the untouchable trophy, agonisingly tangible and within reach this season, and yet still not theirs to hold.

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.

But much of what he learnt, the ambition with which he plays the game was inspired by Guardiola. 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.

An animated Guardiola makes a point to Phil Foden and Bernardo Silva as City chase the game

Guardiola’s devotion to all-out attacking football came back to haunt him in this final

Short of starting Kyle Walker in goal – who, you may recall has played in that position in the Champions League and has never conceded a goal – this was the most Pep Guardiola team Pep Guardiola could pick. 

His oft-cited dream of playing ten creative playmakers as his outfield players and no defenders was nudging closer to its inevitable conclusion. 

Attacking football is the hill on which Guardiola is to committed to dying on and die on it he did. This was his stand: Ilkay Gundogan as holding midfielder.

Starting neither Fernandinho nor Rodri seemed excessively injudicious even for a man so committed to aesthetics of attacking football. 

When playing against a team like Chelsea, built by Thomas Tuchel to counter at speed and exploit space, it verged on being ridiculously reckless. 

He had done it before this season, back in November, but that was against Olympiakos, with all due respect to the Greek champions.

Thomas Tuchel is one of many devotees of Guardiola – but the apprentice became the master

Guardiola tries to console a distraught Kevin De Bruyne as he is forced off with a head injury

It has now been a decade since Guardiola last won the Champions League – with Barcelona

‘C’est magnifique, mais ce n’est pas la guerre: c’est de la folie,’ was General Bosquet memorable analysis of the Charge of the Light Brigade, the forlorn charge of British cavalry into Russian guns during the Crimean War. This felt like the footballing equivalent.

Guardiola normally has one tactical brainfreeze in him a season and he usually reserves it for the biggest games. He was true to form. 

There clearly was a game plan hidden within this formation; it was just wasn’t apparent to the uneducated eye.

Why play a real holding midfielder when you can ask your left back to do the job when you’re attacking? It was cunning plan of sorts. 

Had Antonio Rudiger not managed an extraordinary block to prevent Phil Foden from finishing Kevin De Bruyne’s characteristically exquisite pass in 28 minutes, we might have lauding City for sheer audacity of their daring. 

Chelsea defender Antonio Rudiger makes a priceless block to deny City’s Phil Foden in Porto

That vital intervention denied City what looked to be a first-half opener against Chelsea

Likewise, had the rampaging Kyle Walker’s cross not fallen just short of Riyad Mahrez on 30 minutes.

And all the attacking intent it does leave lots of space into which you can counter attack. That’s always been the design flaw in City’s seemingly impregnable Death Star.

If you can counter really quickly, City’s attacking-minded players don’t have time to recover. Amplify that times ten without Fernandinho. 

Chelsea had almost got there with Timo Werner flunking the best opportunities early on. But the opening goal was an object lesson in how to cut through Guardiola’s team. 

A quick long pass from the keeper, Benjamin Mendy, puts them on the back foot. That was exacerbated when Ben Chilwell touched if first time on to Mason Mount. 

Now it was just Walker and the centre halves on their own. Yet the real touch of genius was Mason Mount’s ability to thread the ball through Ruben Dias and John Stones to allow Kai Havertz to run on. City were undone by a couple of seconds of incisive football.

Kai Havertz skips around a grounded Ederson to score the winning goal for Chelsea 

Havertz celebrates after scoring what proved to be the decisive goal in the all-English final

Ironic really that were in Porto at Estadio Do Dragao, where Jose Mourinho made his name with a style of football which thrived without worrying too much whether you had the ball and had seemingly set the tone for 21st century tactics. 

That was the rulebook Guardiola tore up and what has inspired a generation of coaches.

And a group of Germans, less obsessed with possession of the ball but totally with him on the need to attack, seized on his Zeitgeist and gave it a more direct twist.

Chief among those Germans were Ralf Rangnick, who had a student named Thomas Tuchel, and Jurgen Klopp. Influenced though he was by his compatriots, it was Guardiola that Tuchel truly loved.

Guardiola gets a telling off from the fourth official as his evening goes from bad to worse

He would travel in vain to Barcelona eleven years ago, like a fanboy tourist, asking local journalists if he could meet his idol. 

They would meet later, in 2015, when Guardiola was Bayern coach and they turned out to be tactical soul mates, with the same eye for details and that zest to attack. 

As he mentored his student over long dinners in Munich on two separate occasions, Guardiola perhaps had a glimmer of what he was spawning.

He was ins some ways the midwife to this Tuchel triumph. And so, however many cups he wins, or not, his legacy will be clear. 

Guardiola will always be the man that changed football.




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