Man City Champions League magic said about Pep Guardiola

Man City Champions League magic said about Pep Guardiola

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Pep Guardiola addressed the elephant in the room, patted it on the trunk and fed it some peanuts ahead of Manchester City’s Champions League quarter-final with Atletico Madrid. A familiar narrative around his record-breaking coaching career is his capacity to make eyebrow-raising tactical calls for major European matches - a frequently-cited reason for the Catalan’s failure to win the Champions League after a second success in three seasons with Barcelona back in 2011.

“In the Champions League, always I overthink. Always I create new tactics and new ideas and tomorrow we will see a new one,” he told reporters, brimming with sarcasm and mischief.  

“You have to adapt and adjust. That’s why I love to overthink and create stupid tactics. Tonight I am going to take an inspiration and do incredible tactics tomorrow. We play with 12!”

Unfortunately for Phil Foden, City had to stick to competition rules and pick 11, meaning the England international found himself on the bench.

However, that left him to come on and make a sensational instant impact - producing a magnificent assist for Kevin De Bruyne to score the only goal of the game.

This felt like vindication for Guardiola’s “inspiration” and “incredible tactics” in his long-awaited fourth joust with Diego Simeone, although the "overthink" critics might suggest it’d all have been a lot more straightforward if the City boss had simply picked one of the most exceptional young talents in world football from kick-off.

What were Pep Guardiola’s tactics against Atletico Madrid?

Aside from pondering how City’s shape-shifting attack might line up, there was also pre-match pondering over precisely which defensive roles had been assigned when the team-sheets dropped in the Etihad Stadium media room.

As it happened, no one in the back four played in the position they occupied during Saturday’s 1-0 win over Burnley.

Aymeric Laporte moved back to his favoured spot at left centre-back, with his weekend partner Nathan Ake shifting to left-back.

This meant Joao Cancelo was redeployed at right-back in place of the suspended Kyle Walker. John Stones, who filled in for Walker at Sporting CP in the previous round, partnered Laporte in the middle.

If that sounds like needless tinkering, it actually gave the City defence far better balance, with players operating on their natural sides in a game when they were always likely to see a lot of the ball and be asked to build attacks.

Ake, an unheralded 2020 signing from Bournemouth, was excellent. His four clearances and three interceptions were more than any other City player as he consistently snuffed out any hint of danger.

Cancelo, as he is from left-back, was City’s most versatile and unpredictable attacking weapon, while Laporte and Stones each smoothly ticked past 100 passes. Stones made 83 of his 110 inside the Atletico half.

Guardiola recognised patience was going to be key and if that left game-breakers on the bench, so be it.

Why didn’t Phil Foden start?

If it became clear soon enough that four ticks could be placed alongside Guardiola’s defensive calls, the same could not be said for City’s attack.

The hosts did not manage a shot on target before half-time. Nor did they create a clear chance as they dined on a diet of speculative long-range efforts and blocked snap-shots.

It was crying out for Foden’s creativity but that will also be the case in the games coming up over the next week and a half. And those promise to be very significant.

Liverpool travel to Etihad Stadium on Sunday and the Premier League’s top two meet in an FA Cup semi-final at Wembley on April 16 - three days after City’s second leg at Wanda Metropolitano.

Guardiola has mentioned Cancelo and Raheem Sterling as being among a group of first-teamers who do not need much regeneration time and can play virtually every game if required.

Foden is one of the majority who need to have their minutes sensibly managed. He has started 19 of City’s 31 Premier League games this season and five out of nine in the Champions League.

It’s impossible to imagine him not starting against Liverpool, given he has three goals and two assists in three undefeated league outings versus Jurgen Klopp’s side. His first appearance against Atletico wasn’t bad, either.

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