The biggest chess game in world football began with an unusual opening by Guardiola against Tuchel. Since signing for Manchester City in 2016, the Spanish coach has become infamous for inventing strange approaches in decisive Champions League matches that invariably did not work. Guardiola was true to his creative drive in Porto. Only this time, against all precedents, he did not maneuver with the intention of protecting his defense but rather stepped on the accelerator. On Friday Fernandinho was asked about the formula to manage the anguish of playing a final and the veteran went to the heart of the matter: “Do not change anything.”
It is not proven that every football game is not the door to a new world. Pretending that the same thing can always be done is an expression of desire steeped in fantasy. The same as pretending that Guardiola, in the course of a key day, does not respect his nature as a chess player with dazzling visions.
A blinding idea of offensive creativity inspired the Sampedor coach in the first Champions League final he played after leaving Barcelona in 2012. After experimenting for a year with approaches that included double pivots in the offensive phase, three centrals, or even lineups without a Only a footballer who naturally sought depth, Guardiola drew from the deck a card that he had not played all season. He removed the midfielder. He planted a City devoid of Rodri and Fernandinho on the field, and instead placed an interior, Gündogan, to act as the vertex of the most audacious proposal that world football has seen in recent years.
The deployment included three defenses, five natural interiors – De Bruyne as false nine-, a midfielder thrown to the extreme -Mahrez- and an extreme to a changed leg -Sterling-. He tried to provide City with the most skilled players on his squad to speed up the ball and thus dismantle the most powerful of Chelsea, the soul of Tuchel’s team, which is the core of pressure that Kanté and Jorginho make up. The bunker administrators.
“He wanted us to have a lot of play,” Guardiola explained after the game, in Movistar cameras, when asked about Gundogan’s relocation; “We have not suffered defensively, which was a little risk we were facing. But it has been difficult for us to get to the next line. They marked Gundogan with Werner, and Stones was free … ”.
Guardiola’s tactical ingenuity entailed a paradox: he delayed Gundogan, his top scorer with 17 goals this season, to perform primarily defensive duties. At 34 minutes the German already had a yellow. He began to look too lonely, perhaps because his teammates failed to speed up the passes and ended up losing the ball too often. Choppy the pace of circulation of City, the enormous talent of Jorginho and Kanté prevailed to shorten the spaces and intercept the rival passes.
“We have had an exceptional season,” Guardiola said. “I am sad to have lost but I have no reproaches to the players. We had two entry chances with Sterling’s control and Phil’s shot blocked by Rüdiger. We were a bit passive in the movements in the last third, in the first part. The game has been very close. They in the second part have not left the area. We have been more than correct. We have competed very well against a very tough team. The problem was not that they had more game than us, but rather that we had some losses and when we pressed they threw long and ran us. They haven’t done much but they have a very solid defensive structure with a very united and very physical 5-4 ”.
“We had luck”
Having lost control of the situation, the City players lost their place and their defects emerged. Gündogan wavered in his condition of pivot of occasion, Stones felt insecure, Mahrez let himself be carried away by his vain and distracted temperament, Foden only thought after receiving the ball – late – and De Bruyne’s legs weighed heavily. Out of shape since he caught the covid in winter, the Belgian was weighed down by his physique long before Rüdiger sent him to the infirmary.
Two ideas were contrasted in Porto. Defense against attack, discipline against creativity, pressure against passing. The defense won. Tuchel won, who confessed himself an admirer of Guardiola and, over the years, led to his antithesis. It is easier for the teacher to applaud it than to reproduce it.
“We were lucky”, said Tuchel, sweaty after the party, to explain the 1-0 score, “we got through the difficult moments, we knew how to suffer and we turned the goal into a counter”.
Not a shot had to stop Mendy, the Chelsea goalkeeper. He was protected by defenses such as César Azpilicueta, the first Spaniard to raise a Champions League as captain of a foreign team. “I had been with Chelsea for nine years and today I have to be on the good side,” said the Navarrese. “The strength of this group is energy, work, you just had to see how our attackers have run in defense.”
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.