Pep Guardiola remains biggest threat to Man City’s Champions League hopes... he must keep emotions in check

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·3-min read
Pep Guardiola remains biggest threat to Man City’s Champions League hopes... he must keep emotions in check
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With respect to Real Madrid’s golden oldies, Pep Guardiola remains the greatest threat to Manchester City reaching back-to-back Champions League finals.

We are at that stage when the Catalan can over-think, at best, or go into complete meltdown, at worst. Either way, City’s failure to replicate their domestic dominance in Europe has generally been self-inflicted.

That they go into tonight’s semi-final first leg as overwhelming favourites underlines the quality of Guardiola’s squad, considering they face a team on the verge of winning the Spanish title and are playing at this stage of the competition for the 31st time.

Guardiola has, arguably, had the deepest pool of talent in Europe for the past five years, yet last season was his first final as City manager and defeat to Chelsea continued a pattern that has seen him lose to underdogs in each of his Champions League campaigns with the club.

From Monaco to Tottenham to Lyon, City have contrived to find a way to blow it, just as the draw looked like opening up for them — and Guardiola’s fingerprints have been all over each of those disappointments.

None more so than last May’s final, when he named a starting XI without a holding midfielder. When Thomas Tuchel got wind of the news while on the team bus, driving to the stadium in Porto, he quickly altered his own plans.

Chelsea’s winning goal from Kai Havertz came as a result of Mason Mount exposing that glaring hole in the City team to play the German through.

So, it has reached the point where City fans are left looking through their fingers as the Champions League reaches the crunch stages for fear of what Guardiola will do next.

If they can be sure of anything, it is that Madrid will be ready to pounce on any chance given. They are in the last four because of Chelsea’s own meltdown in the first leg of their quarter-final at Stamford Bridge.

Calamitous defending gifted them a 3-1 lead to defend at the Bernabeu. Even then, Carlo Ancelotti’s side were 15 minutes from being eliminated until a sublime moment from Luka Modric set up Rodrygo to send the tie into extra time.

Pep Guardiola has been known to over-think his selection and tactical decisions in Manchester City’s quest for Champions League glory (Getty Images)
Pep Guardiola has been known to over-think his selection and tactical decisions in Manchester City’s quest for Champions League glory (Getty Images)

That game in Spain should be instructive to Guardiola: Madrid could not handle Chelsea’s speed and aggression. Only the cushion from the first leg allowed them to recover by picking their moments through the individual brilliance of Modric and Karim Benzema.

They are capable of producing those moments against City, but are unlikely to be gifted the freedom they were in the first 50 minutes at Stamford Bridge.

That is, unless Guardiola strikes again. City’s own performance in the Spanish capital against Atletico in the last round should serve as encouragement that they have matured on this stage.

For all the recriminations directed at Diego Simeone and his streetwise team, City used all the gamesmanship they could muster to frustrate and run the clock down. It was a defensive masterclass, right out of the Simeone playbook.

In previous years, Guardiola might have been tempted to play his way out of trouble. On this occasion, City snapped and snarled and stubbornly got over the finishing line. It felt like a significant moment for the club and their manager in terms of their European evolution.

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