Guardiola left to rue going back to the future as Chelsea claim final edge

By Sports Desk May 08, 2021

So, Manchester City's Premier League champagne remains on ice after a 2-1 defeat against Chelsea but what, if anything, did the phoney war tell us?

Raheem Sterling's first club goal since February put City ahead during a magnificently silly ending to the first half, which wrapped up with Chelsea goalkeeper Edouard Mendy being able to go to ground, get back up and still have time to catch Sergio Aguero's gentle interpretation of a Panenka.

Hakim Ziyech, as he did in the Blues' 1-0 win over City in last month's FA Cup semi-final at Wembley, found the net and Chelsea looked the most likely winners from that point.

Timo Werner and Callum Hudson-Odoi each had the ball in the net from offside positions before Marcos Alonso did so legally with a scuffed effort in stoppage time.

Three weeks from now, these squads – although almost certainly not these line-ups – will reconvene in the Champions League final. Maybe in Istanbul, but who knows?

Overthink, underthink... what to think?

Doing precisely the thing he hasn't in City's run to their maiden final in Europe's top competition, Pep Guardiola dropped a team sheet that prompt plenty of reaction, all roughly along the lines of "What on earth is that?"

Having made hay with a team packed full of playmakers since the turn of the year, the man who once joked he would like to pick a side of 11 midfielders selected precisely one such specialist.

Were City playing 3-1-4-2? 5-1-4, if that is even a thing? Holding midfielder Rodri was definitely in a category of one.

The easy conclusion to draw was one of Guardiola doing something so ludicrous, performing such a wanton act of deception that Chelsea or Tuchel would be completely unable to draw any conclusions for the final.

Watching a City team displaying nine changes from their midweek victory over PSG clank their way through proceedings, showing virtually none of their usual slick interplay, added some weight to that viewpoint.

However, that would mean Guardiola took a football match something less than completely seriously, which is something he had never really done.

After enjoying all the pre-match Beautiful Mind gifs, there was some precedent to be found.

Klassic Pep

When Guardiola's Bayern Munich took on Tuchel's Borussia Dortmund in 2015, his biographer Marti Perarnau recorded an unusual tactical approach in the book "Pep Guardiola: The Evolution".

Faced with a Dortmund team keen on packing central midfield, Guardiola opted to use wide areas and long passes to unpick Tuchel's setup. Bayern deployed a 3-3-4 with the ball at times and ran out 5-1 winners.

While City lacked their usual fluency and assurance in possession – their 533 passes were their fourth-lowest number attempted in the league game this season – there was a definite plan to use the pace of Raheem Sterling, Ferran Torres and Gabriel Jesus to occupy Chelsea's back five.

Andreas Christensen injured himself trying to deal with a long punt in the 44th minute, with Jesus capitalising and squaring to an unusually hesitant Aguero before Sterling picked up the pieces.

Aguero then became the fourth City player after Kevin De Bruyne, Ilkay Gundogan and Sterling to miss a Premier League penalty this season.

"I'm completely in love with him. He is an absolute top legend, an extraordinary player," Guardiola said of Aguero after he scored against Crystal Palace last weekend. It is fair to say his assessment of the Argentina striker's brainwave contrasted somewhat.

But Guardiola could reflect on the plan at least partially working. And if the first-choice attack of De Bruyne, Phil Foden, Riyad Mahrez and Bernardo Silva had taken up the high and harrying positions City's forwards did here, it is safe to presume their sharper creative skills would have mustered more than the five key passes Aguero, Jesus, Sterling and Torres managed between them.

Three not easy

One club that keen golfer Guardiola will surely put back in his tactical bag is the back three – certainly in this form, with three specialist centre-backs as opposed to a full-back tucking in to occasionally make a two a three.

Reece James in particular made merry for Chelsea after half-time, to the extent Benjamin Mendy had to be removed. It was no surprise that the visitors' winner came down City's left flank.

Tuchel also rested key performers, but his 3-4-3 appears to be set in stone. For all his struggles in front of goal and with offside flags, Werner's speed has now run City's defence ragged in two consecutive games.

Both times these were City backlines without Kyle Walker's recovery pace, something that should significantly offset the Germany international's threat.

But, once again, we're into guesswork. Afterwards, Tuchel was only too happy to deal in cold, hard facts.

"We arrive [at the final] with the knowledge that we are capable of beating them," he told Sky Sports after Chelsea overcame Guardiola's City for the fifth time in the Premier League.

Irrespective of formations, personnel and any other smoke and mirrors, perhaps that counts more than anything.

Related items

  • Norrie continues stunning season after reaching Indian Wells decider against Basilashvili Norrie continues stunning season after reaching Indian Wells decider against Basilashvili

    ameron Norrie continued his sensational year by reaching his sixth and most significant final for the season with a straight-sets win over Grigor Dimitrov in the Indian Wells Masters semi-finals on Saturday.

    The British 21st seed claimed his 46th win for the season, earning his sixth final appearance for the season, which is the equal most of any male player on tour, alongside Novak Djokovic.

    Norrie will play Georgian 29th seed Nicoloz Basilashvili who defeated local Taylor Fritz in straight sets to reach a Masters 1000 final for the first time.

     

    NORRIE TOPPLES TIRING DIMITROV

    Norrie will also be making his maiden Masters 1000 final appearance after a 6-2 6-4 victory over 23rd seed Dimitrov in one hour and 26 minutes.

    The 26-year-old Briton got ahead in both sets with an early break to set up the victory. Norrie moves ahead of Daniil Medvedev, Casper Ruud and Stefanos Tsitsipas and level with Djokovic for most final appearances this season.

    "I've been playing a lot of big matches this year, which has helped," Norrie said during his on-court interview. "I feel like I am used to the big moments and the big matches.

    "I'm feeling more and more comfortable and I feel like I am playing on my terms in key moments."

    Dimitrov, who beat top seed Daniil Medvedev in an epic fourth round comeback, appeared spent physically with 31 unforced errors compared to Norrie's 19, with the Briton only hitting 12 winners for the match.

    The triumph boosts Norrie's hopes of qualifying for the ATP Finals, with victory in the decider to see him move past Jannik Sinner into 10th position and within 125 points of the last position, currently occupied by Hubert Hurkacz.

     

    BASILASHVILI MAKES MAIDEN MASTERS 1000 FINAL

    Basilashvili overcame late nerves to secure his first-ever Masters 1000 final berth with victory over 31st seed Fritz in 7-6 (7-5) 6-3 in one hour and 41 minutes.

    The 29-year-old, who had never won a main draw match at Indian Wells prior to this year's event, had 26-21 winners for the match, stepping up in the key moments to claim his breakthrough spot in a decider.

    "It means a lot, especially at Indian Wells," Basilashvili said during his on-court interview. "People call this the fifth grand slam so it means a lot."

    The Georgian was uncompromising and committed throughout, staving off three Fritz set points in the first set, before getting the lead in a tiebreak. Basilashvili converted his first break point for the match to lead 4-2 in the second set, although he spurned three match points with missed forehands, before sealing victory.

    "For me, I'm first time experiencing semi-finals, finals and quarter-finals so I'm really tight," Basilashvili said. "It's natural but I try to get rid of it as much as I can. If I focus on my game and play, I can play good tennis."

  • Giroud savours return to goals as Milan fight back against Verona Giroud savours return to goals as Milan fight back against Verona

    Olivier Giroud was relieved to get back among the goals as Milan fought back to beat Hellas Verona 3-2 at San Siro on Saturday.

    The Rossoneri looked to be heading for a first defeat in 30 home Serie A meetings with Verona when Gianluca Caprari and Antonin Barak put them 2-0 up before half-time.

    Giroud headed in just before the hour mark to spark Milan's revival, with Franck Kessie levelling the scores from the penalty spot before a late decisive own goal from Koray Gunter.

    The result put Stefano Pioli's men top of the table ahead of Napoli's clash with Torino on Sunday.

    In scoring his third goal in his first two Serie A home games, Giroud matched a feat only previous reached by Oliver Bierhoff, Alexandre Pato, Mario Balotelli and Carlos Bacca since 1994-95.

    The former Arsenal and Chelsea striker, who had missed four of Milan's previous five games, admitted it had been a long time coming to be back on the scoresheet.

    "I've waited a long time for this moment. I missed the competition," Giroud, who last scored in the win over Cagliari in August, told DAZN.

    "In the first half, we didn't do well but the reaction was important. I don't feel 100 per cent yet but I am growing and I feel more free.

    "This victory is a joy. I can't wait to go and celebrate with my team-mates. In the first half, there was a lack of nastiness and quality. We could only do better in the second half, and that's what we did."

    Pioli was left delighted with the endeavour shown by his side in the second half as they now prepare for a key Champions League group game with Porto on Tuesday.

    "My team believe in what they do and put their soul into everything," he told DAZN.

    "We tried to play from the back but they were very aggressive in the first half. They took away our space and often left us with just the long ball. We were not very dynamic and we suffered.

    "The best thing about this group is to see everyone involved. The credit doesn't go to me, but it's the air we breathe. The boys put individuality aside to put themselves at the service of the team.

    "We should enjoy this game but prepare for Porto. We've recovered some players and we've lost some. The more rotations there are, the better we can do." 

  • Milan 3-2 Hellas Verona: Gunter own goal decisive as Rossoneri roar back Milan 3-2 Hellas Verona: Gunter own goal decisive as Rossoneri roar back

    Milan roared back from 2-0 down to beat Hellas Verona 3-2 on Saturday and claim top spot in the Serie A table.

    Unbeaten in their opening seven league games of the season, the Rossoneri were 2-0 down at the break against a side previously without an away win against them in 29 attempts.

    Gianluca Caprari and a penalty from Antonin Barak had Verona heading for an unlikely three points before the home side produced a second-half turnaround.

    After Olivier Giroud had headed home a third goal in three league games, Franck Kessie equalised from the penalty spot before Koray Gunter's own goal settled a gripping contest.

    Milan had not conceded two first-half goals in Serie A since last November – against these opponents – but they paid the price for a lifeless start to the contest.

    Ciprian Tatarusanu, in for the injured Mike Maignan, was powerless to keep out Caprari's precise finish seven minutes in after Miguel Veloso had kept Verona's attack alive.

    The lead was doubled 17 minutes later, Barak putting his penalty just out of Tatarusanu's reach after Alessio Romagnoli was judged to have fouled Nikola Kalinic as the former Milan forward darted in front of him to meet a cross.

    This Milan is a resilient side, though – they have only twice taken more points after the first eight matches of the season in the three-point era than they had before this game – and they got a lifeline just before the hour when Giroud nodded in Rafael Leao's expert cross from the left.

    A swift passing move saw Leao backheel the ball to Samu Castillejo, who was caught from behind by Marco Faraoni, allowing Kessie to dispatch a confident penalty and level the scores with 15 minutes left.

    Stefano Pioli introduced Zlatan Ibrahimovic off the bench, and the veteran striker may well have had a tap-in had Gunter not scuffed an attempted clearance beneath the legs of goalkeeper Lorenzo Montipo to give Milan the lead.


    What does it mean? Milan go top – and stay unbeaten

    Milan's comeback saw them leapfrog Napoli, who play Torino on Sunday, and go top of the table by a single point.

    With Inter having lost 3-1 at Lazio earlier, Pioli will be doubly pleased with the manner of their second-half performance as they capitalised on their rivals' first loss of the season.

    Verona are 13th, with eight points from eight games.

    Olivier takes centre stage

    Giroud has made a career out of being a penalty-box menace and it was no surprise to see him drag Milan back into the contest.

    He is the fifth Rossonero since 1994-95 to score three goals in his first two Serie A home games, after Oliver Bierhoff, Alexandre Pato, Mario Balotelli and Carlos Bacca.

    Maldini goes missing

    Daniel Maldini completed just seven passes before being hooked at half-time as Pioli rang the changes to good effect.

    By contrast, replacement Rade Krunic completed twice as many in the opposition half alone while creating four goalscoring chances.

    What's next?

    Milan head to Porto in the Champions League on Tuesday before facing Bologna away on October 23.

© 2020 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.