Pep Guardiola's performance in domestic leagues and in the Champions League (CL) has been completely different since he beat Manchester United with Barcelona in 2011. Although he won seven league titles in nine seasons, since then he hasn't been able to reach the final stage of the biggest tournament in Europe. There were some unlucky moments for him, like 10-men Chelsea scoring an incredible equalizer in 2012, Leeroy Sane's unfairly ruled-out goal against Liverpool last season or the dramatic VAR decision made by Turkish referee Cüneyt Çakır this Wednesday, ruling out Raheem Sterling's goal by centimeters. Nevertheless, I argue that Pep Guardiola deviates from his usual strategy in the Champions League so much that the efficiency of his strategies and tactics drops significantly.
Let's consider the first leg of the quarterfinal against Tottenham in which Son-Heung Min punished Guardiola's extremely cautious game with a late winner. Despite the fact that Tottenham left the ball to Manchester City and defended in their half with seven men, Guardiola never pushed his center backs, Nicolas Otamendi and Aymeric Laporte, to the midfield line so that he could push Tottenham defensive line deep into their penalty box. He was so afraid that Tottenham's forward line, Harry Kane, Dele Alli and Son-Heung Min, could make deadly runs behind his defense that he even positioned Fernandinho right in front of his center backs. What followed was not a surprise, the connection between defense and offence was broken, and Tottenham were able to stop City without any great effort.
This cost Guardiola not only extremely valuable away goals, but also equated his already superior game with Tottenham's less skilled counter-attacking game. Then, it was all about who was going to make crucial mistakes, and City made both by missing a penalty and leaving Son unmarked for a moment. But what I do not get in this story is why Guardiola uses so many Mourinho-flavored defensive tactics when he has possibly the best attacking team in the world. As the second game showed, City is capable of dictating the rules of the game against Tottenham and scored more goals than them. If Guardiola was not so afraid of losing the game in the first leg and pushed his defense forward, they could probably score at least one or two goals, which could bring them the semifinals.
Now, seeing as the same thing happened to Guardiola over and over again in the last nine years of his managerial career, it is fair to say that deviating from his usual strategies and tactics is the main reason why he has failed in the Champions League. He has proven the efficiency of his attacking strategy, which respects the opponent's attacking strength but does not take extra measures against it, but it seems that he has grown an anxious attitude towards the Champions League. The lesson is clear, poor opponent analysis or bad luck may cost you one or two trophies, but if you are consistent with your strategies and tactics, you will increase your chances of winning in the long run. Abandoning a well-built strategy in favor of opponent analysis overnight simply does not make any sense, at least in the mind-set of a manager like Guardiola.
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