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Champions League: patience and substitutes pay off for Pep and City | Sports | German football and major international sports news | DW


For a man who has won the competition twice in his first three years as head coach, it is his perceived failure in the Champions League that is weighing on Pep Guardiola’s career.

His move to Bayern bought the expected domestic titles and even advanced the Bavarians’ style, but did not bring home the headline. It also eluded him at City, despite the genius of his team and the abundance of oil money from the United Arab Emirates. Those sneaky whispers had clearly bothered him ahead of Tuesday’s quarter-final first leg against Atletico Madrid.

“In the Champions League I always think too much. New tactics, tomorrow you will see a new one,” the former Barcelona boss said sarcastically on Monday. “I overthink and create stupid tactics,” he continued. “Tonight, I’m going to be inspired and I’m going to do incredible tactics tomorrow. We’ll play 12 tomorrow!”

Change is happening

Ultimately, his formation was unsurprising, but any City line-up will always mean an omission for a top striker. This time, Phil Foden is among those who missed out. But the England international came off the pitch in a triple substitution that unlocked a stubborn, resolute but entirely shotless Atleti side. Gabriel Jesus, Jack Grealish and Foden all came on in the 68th minute, with the latter providing sensational footwork and a through ball that saw Kevin de Bruyne score the only goal of the game two minutes later.

Was Guardiola’s decision to trigger Foden’s direct dribble against a defensive unit that had been chasing the ball for 68 minutes a masterstroke? Or was the call to leave their two best one-on-one dribblers, in Foden and Grealish, on the bench to start the game the reason City took so long to break the deadlock?

Take your pick, because no one really knows. Elite coaches have to make dozens of these decisions every game, perhaps even more than when they have as many options as the Catalan tactician.

“The guys were playing well but with Gabriel [Jesus] going inside it gives us a special energy and with Jack to keep the ball and the manager is so smart,” Guardiola said, seemingly alluding to those who know best in hindsight. “When we make an under -marin, it’s because we think it can be a little bit better. Sometimes it works but other times it doesn’t.”

The waiting game

If Atleti display the lack of ambition they did in the second leg, it won’t matter.

“They played so defensively and they are solid,” de Bruyne said after the game against BT Sport. “They played almost 5-5-0 and it’s very difficult to find spaces. I would recommend anyone who says something about our performance to try it on the training ground.

Kevin de Bruyne’s angled finish gave City the win

“In the circumstances, we played pretty well. You have to be calm, patient, give nothing away and keep trying to find spaces.”

His striking made it hard to criticize City, who succeeded where many have failed against a street side Atletico, who know how to earn those ties. Despite Foden’s sparkling cameo, City failed to get a second and Diego Simeone has already beaten the odds.

Foden, for his part, has certainly argued for a selection in the Spanish capital next week. This one might not be the overthinking type, Pep.