Premier League – Manchester City: Pep Guardiola, the price of perfection

When the impossible repeats itself and repeats itself again, it was not.

PSG, Chelsea, and now Manchester City have therefore succumbed to Madrid’s spell, as if Real’s famous ‘European DNA’ does exist beyond statistics, journalistic shortcuts and the fact that genetics must have been all the same. damn helped by the fact that this club, as soon as it set out to conquer Europe, had the means to afford the best on the market to achieve this, from Di Stefano to Zidane, from Kopa to Ronaldo, from Puskas to Benzema.

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It shouldn’t be a coincidence either that Real have never left the top 3 of the Rich List of Deloitte and if none of its competitors has occupied the first place in this ranking as often as it has: twelve times out of seventeen since the London accounting firm published its first Top 20, in 2004-05. The magic trick, if it is one, is not the most subtle. This does not prevent it from producing its effect. It is different for Manchester City, and even more so for its coach. In view of the billion invested by Sheikh Mansour to offer this coach the apostles who can best carry the word of the Game according to Saint Pep, this new failure suggests that another type of magic is at work in their case, almost a curse.

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For some, Manchester City’s surrender at the Bernabeu, belated as it was, ‘proved’ that Guardiola, who has now lost six Champions League semi-finals, a record he shares with José Mourinho, has not was perhaps not the genius proclaimed by others. This song, we know it, because it was sung to us in Munich before we were offered an encore in Manchester. “Without Messi…” – you know the rest. It’s excessive. It’s not even far from ridiculous. It is not devoid of any truth, however.

Eight collapses

Because what we experienced in Madrid was well in line with a narrative that began a long time ago: not that of Real, that of Pep Guardiola and his teams in Spain, Germany and England, who have not only his style in common, but also an unusual propensity to crumble in the face of certain obstacles, almost always when the end of the road is near. Guardiola has participated in thirteen Champions League as a coach. He won two, in 2009 and 2011, with Barça. The other eleven times, eight eliminations were directly linked to unexpected and sudden collapses. Here is the detail.

  • In 2009-10, Barcelona conceded two goals in thirteen minutes in the semi-final against Inter (1-3 final score).
  • In 2013-14, three in eighteen with Bayern, against Real Madrid, still in half (0-4).
  • In 2014-15, three in seventeen. The opponent, cruelly, was Barça that evening (0-3). It was still a semi-final.
  • In 2016-17, two in eight. Monaco lost 5-3 in the round of 16 against City, but those goals would be the difference in the end.
  • In 2017-18, three in nineteen against Liverpool in the quarters (0-3).
  • In 2018-19, two in three, still in the quarters, against Tottenham this time (4-3, elimination due to the away goals rule).
  • In 2019-20, two in eight, and OL took out City in the quarterfinals (1-3).
  • And 2021-22 to finish. Three goals in six minutes in Madrid (1-3).

How Guardiola lost the coaching battle

As we said above, when the impossible repeats itself over and over again, it is because it was not. Anyone can sink from time to time. Former Manchester City player Nedum Onuoha, who had just been reminded of this series of disasters experienced by Guardiola on the podcast of the Guardian, retorted that a team was never more vulnerable than when they had just conceded, especially on the outside. No doubt that was true, just as it is true that a team is also vulnerable when it has just scored and, whether it likes it or not, relaxes just enough to experience a moment of relaxation. ‘oversight.

However, this does not explain why and how teams built specifically to exercise as much control over the ball and the game as possible can lose their footing so regularly, almost as predictably, when they approach the dream goal. No, among the ‘greats’, it’s not just PSG that knows how to scuttle itself like this.

For Guardiola, there is a truth of the game

Some managers like chaos, like the two finalists of this 2021-22 Champions League, Jürgen Klopp and Carlo Ancelotti, perhaps the two most inspired and efficient technicians of our time in terms of coaching, whether for modify a tactical set-up or to make decisive changes mid-game. Guardiola? No. For him, there is indeed a truth to the game. For him, one can reach the foot of the rainbow, at the very least get close enough to be consumed in its light. The best way to do this is through repeating sequences and combos. But repeating, again and again, is that always progress? Or is it becoming a kind of Penelope, undoing his tapestry to redo it, and redoing it to undo it, without Ulysses ever arriving at the door of the studio?

The quest for perfection pays off. When the machine jams, those who make it work are so surprised that they forget gestures they were performing without thinking a few moments before, like the centipede in the German tale who was asked how he managed to do function all his appendages at the same time and who, thinking about the question and being unable to answer it, found himself paralyzed.

Pep Guardiola – Manchester City

Credit: Getty Images

It’s as if resisting this machine was an outrage to reason, and when reason becomes nonsense, nothing can save it. This is the look of Phil Foden after Rodrygo scored the second of his goals. Nothing had prepared him for this scenario, and his partners no more than him, given their lack of reaction, beyond incomprehension. Manchester City ceased to exist completely during extra time after Karim Benzéma’s penalty. Fatigue was not the only cause, nor was some mysterious enchantment that Real would exert on their opponents.

In the minds of Cityzens, it is as if an immutable law has been broken. It is as if it belonged to others than them to punish those who had violated it. Plunged into chaos, footballers as gifted and imaginative as Bernardo Silva and Riyad Mahrez had lost their gifts of improvisation; and Man City cracked, once, twice, three times, not for the first time. And that’s how by dint of playing in triangles, we can go around in circles.

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