Pep Guardiola knows he made a mess of the 2021 Champions League final and his over-thinking was a huge factor in their defeat… so what lessons can he learn as Man City chase an historic Treble?
- Man City play Inter Milan in the final of the Champions League on Saturday night
- Guardiola made a number of tactical errors the last time City reached the final
- Mail Sport takes a look at what Man City can learn from their 2021 loss to Chelsea
Manchester City are on the brink of history and will complete an historic Treble if they beat Inter Milan in the Champions League final.
For all their success, Europe’s biggest competition has so far alluded them and they will be desperate to end their wait for the crown.
Guardiola is a man who makes very few mistakes but his decision making has often been questionable whenever Man City have been knocked out of the tournament.
His naivety at Monaco, the chaos against Liverpool, the caution against Tottenham – where Kevin De Bruyne was left on the bench – and the surprising changes to the line-up against Lyon are well known.
But his biggest blunder was arguably left for the biggest game of all – their Champions League final loss to Chelsea in 2021.
Mail Sport takes a look at the lessons Guardiola can learn from the night of May 29, 2021, as Man City aim to succeed in their second attempt at winning the Champions League final.
Pep Guardiola was somewhat responsible for City’s defeat to Chelsea in the 2021 final
City were the favourites heading into the match but Guardiola’s tactics did not pay off in Porto
Stick to what you know
Guardiola had appeared to have finally learned from his European mistakes when they qualified for the final in Porto back in 2021.
The Spaniard had learned not to tinker with his team and had made just four changes across the four quarter-final and semi-final matches, with nine players starting all the games.
But then arrived the team-sheet that came out over an hour before they were due to play Chelsea.
Rodri and Fernandinho had played in 60 out of 61 games for City during that season – whether individually or together.
But for the final, Guardiola inexcusably decided against playing either of the pair, with Ilkay Gundogan entrusted to anchor the midfield.
Not that Gundogan isn’t a capable defensive midfielder as he has played there in the past and at a very good level. But given the German was Man City’s top scorer that season, it appeared a baffling decision at the time to play him in a deeper role over Rodri and Fernandinho who are better suited to the position.
Ilkay Gundogan was outclassed in the centre of the park against Chelsea in a season where he was the club’s top scorer having played in a more advanced role
Defensive midfielders Fernandinho (pictured) and Rodri had been surprisingly left out of the starting XI
The only other time neither Rodri nor Fernandinho were involved that season was a routine 3-0 win over Olympiakos. But Olympiakos in Manchester in November is a very different proposition to Chelsea in the biggest game in European football in May.
Gundogan and his midfield partner that day Bernardo Silva – also playing in a more deeper role than usual – were outclassed by N’Golo Kante and Jorginho in the centre of the park.
Kai Havertz’s winning goal stemmed from the absence of Rodri and Fernandinho. Mason Mount far too often received the ball in space and could pick out passes to cause problems for John Stones and Ruben Dias.
That happened for the goal as Stones was pulled to the half-way line, Dias was dragged across by the electric pace of Timo Werner, and Havertz had a gaping hole to run into and score.
Given Rodri’s form this season, it seems unthinkable that he would be left out of the line-up against Inter Milan.
Rodri has been one of City’s better performers this season and is expected to start
Don’t leave strikers on the bench
Given City have a 52-goal striker at their disposal, Guardiola needs no reminder of his decision to not bring on a centre-forward until the hour mark against Chelsea two years ago.
Erling Haaland will undoubtedly start the game, but should Inter Milan threaten to cause a surprise, Guardiola will surely have to look at bringing Julian Alvarez on to provide some extra threat.
When the Norwegian was playing for Borussia Dortmund, Guardiola would often decide to play a false nine instead of a traditional centre forward.
However, his decision not to start Gabriel Jesus or Sergio Aguero, and wait until the hour mark to bring them on when Chelsea went into the break with a 1-0 lead, was a significant mistake on Guardiola’s part.
Sergio Aguero (pictured) and Gabriel Jesus did not start against Chelsea as Guardiola preferred to play De Bruyne as a false nine
Though City had plenty of attacking talent on the day in the form of Raheem Sterling, Riyad Mahrez, Phil Foden and De Bruyne, who was playing as a false nine, it was obvious throughout the first half that something was not working.
It took until the hour mark for City to bring on Jesus – and only change seemingly only came because De Bruyne was injured. Aguero then came on with just 13 minutes left to play as a substitute for Sterling.
While the Brazilian did have enough time on the pitch to make an impact, Guardiola should have started one of the pair – especially when his best goalscorer that season, Gundogan, was playing as a holding midfielder.
It would take a brave man to drop 52-goal Erling Haaland from the line-up against Inter Milan
Pray De Bruyne can play the full 90
De Bruyne left the pitch in tears at the hour mark of the final after fracturing his eye socket following a collision with Antonio Rudiger.
Playing as a false nine, De Bruyne had struggled throughout the game and was unable to produce the same level he is renowned for.
He gave the ball away 14 times in the match as he and the rest of City’s attack struggled against Chelsea.
However, with the talent he possesses, all it would have taken was one superb pass that could have got them back into the game.
Given the way the game was going, he would have likely dropped into a deeper role behind Jesus and Aguero. By the time they were on the pitch, De Bruyne had already left the field.
De Bruyne can change a football game at any moment and Inter will have a difficult task of negating the impact that both he and Haaland can have for 90 minutes.
If the game is tight, Guardiola will be keen for his star midfielder to play the full duration.
Kevin De Bruyne’s 2021 Champions League final ended in tears with an eye socket injury
De Bruyne had endured a frustrating night before he was caught in the eye by Antonio Rudiger
Use the ball wisely
City had the greater possession than Chelsea on the night (58 to 42 per cent) and completed over 200 more passes.
But it was the Blues who looked the more likely to score throughout the game.
Timo Werner could have had a hat-trick for Chelsea before Havertz’s goal, while Christian Pulisic had a golden opportunity to double the lead in the second half.
Man City, despite their array of attacking talent, were unable to create many clear cut opportunities. This was down to a mixture of some excellent defending by Chelsea, as well as wasteful passing by Man City.
It perhaps coincides with Guardiola’s decision to play his best players out of position.
Chelsea’s victory could have been greater if Timo Werner (right) and Christian Pulisic took their chances, as Man City struggled to create meaningful opportunities during the game
Pick in-form players and put them in the right position
City left out some key players while also making some surprise inclusions during their 2021 Champions League final loss.
Sterling had played just 30 minutes in his three prior Champions League appearances for City that season – while only netting once in the Premier League since the beginning of March.
Rodri and Fernandinho had played a big part in their Premier League success but were dropped for the final, while Joao Cancelo and Jesus were also surprising omissions.
But even those that did feature appeared to be out of position. Gundogan was played as a defensive midfielder – a role he played in just three out of 44 games prior.
Bernardo Silva was deployed as a centre midfielder – a role he had played in just once in their prior 12 Champions League games that season having been picked in more advanced roles.
De Bruyne had played as a false nine throughout the knockout stages of the tournament, but he failed to provide a single assist, which is one of his strongest traits.
Foden also played in a deeper role when he had been used on the left-wing in every game prior throughout the competition.
Guardiola has rarely played his best players out of position this season, and after their loss to Chelsea two years ago, it would seem unlikely he would make the same mistake again.
City are chasing a Treble having won the Premier League and FA Cup so far this season
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