UEFA Champions League Final: A ploy that failed, and one that triumphed

Amidst the deluge of criticism he copped for his formational rejig within the Champions League remaining, Pep Guardiola remained calm. He smiled wistfully when a tv presenter requested him about his strategic fake pax. “I made the choice, to have high quality gamers. To have velocity, to search out the small gamers, the standard, the good gamers, inside, within the center and between the strains. This was the choice.”

It’s arduous to argue with the knowledge of one of the best thinkers within the sport. To unlock Chelsea’s iron-wall backline, guarded by three iron-willed centre-backs and two eagle-eyed midfield enforcers – of whom one is taken into account the very best on this planet – Guardiola thought he required the collective ingenuity and intelligence of his most inventive gamers.

Therefore, he sacrificed the combativeness of Fernandinho and the robustness of Rodri to the space-shredding brilliance of Ilkay Gundogan. What Gundogan lacks in tempo and knack of retrieving balls, he makes up along with his intuition to search out the proper cross to the proper man. Metropolis had males upfront and tempo on the flanks to react shortly to Gundogan’s designs. The imaginative and prescient behind the plan was to make use of the width of the pitch, thereby decongesting the midfield and get into the area behind the excessive Chelsea line of defense.

Shock quotient

In addition to, there was the shock component that Guardiola is dedicated to throw up. Chelsea would have anticipated Phil Foden on the wings, Raheem Sterling via the centre, Kevin de Bruyne pulling the strings from behind and the Riyad Mahrez-Bernardo Silva mixture in the correct channel. However Guardiola thinks in another way. No different supervisor might need tried so many formations or deployed so many gamers in so many positions as Guardiola this yr.

Nevertheless, the plan didn’t work towards a well-drilled Chelsea, who, versus Metropolis, haven’t budged from their three-man, two-pivots defence ploy employed since Thomas Tuchel assumed reins in January. Twice in 5 months earlier than the ultimate have Metropolis run into this wall, and it was invariable they tweaked and twiddled. So putting in Gundogan on the midfield base was not an irrational transfer, moderately too progressive towards a facet that relishes on transitions and counters at a frenetic tempo.

Initially, the transfer appeared to work. Gundogan was splitting the slender gaps between the defenders and discovering area behind them. However Chelsea have been fast to react, they superior their defensive strains, which ensured that even when they have been to lose the ball, that they had ample time to regather it. Their fast fullbacks — Reece James was efficient in neutering Sterling whereas Ben Chilwell fed luxurious upfield crosses — afforded them this liberty. Quickly, Chelsea started to throttle Gundogan, who got here second-best when encountered by the dynamic press and persistence of N’golo Kante and Jorginho.

Kante, the phantom

Kante was a phantom on this match — nowhere however all over the place. At one second, he was in Metropolis’s penalty space, making an attempt to hyperlink up with Mason Mount; within the subsequent, he was lunging full-pelt to intercept a cross on the different finish. As if there have been two separate Kantes at both finish. If Metropolis needed to unlock Chelsea’s defence, they first wanted to decrypt the key code of Kante. They couldn’t. For each attackers and defenders, he exudes assurance, for they know he would fill within the gaps they depart behind throughout transition and thus maintain the form. Once they pressed with out possession, Kante joined Mount within the centre, with wing-backs pushing excessive to stop Metropolis from enjoying out from the again. When defending, he drifted in entrance of the again three, filling area and often marking the person in the very best place to shoot. His interventions have been well timed in denying Foden and Mahrez.

The most important casualty in Guardiola’s shuffle was Foden, whose tempo and trickery may fox the very best defenders. However right here, working in a central channel, behind de Bruyne, his finest presents have been contained. It’s not a job he’s unused to, however not his most completed. It was not stunning then that he loved his best moments within the sport after being shifted large upon Sterling’s substitution. The latter once more was wasteful, at a place he had loved so nicely at Liverpool, however years and accidents have slowed him down.

Proper system, not the group

So in essence, Guardiola’s was the correct ploy however with the incorrect group of gamers. It might have been the proper technique if he nonetheless had David Silva, an unimaginable manipulator of area. Or a main Sterling. Or Leroy Sane, the nimble-footed German they offloaded to Bayern Munich. Or the callow however fast Ferran Torres. The Metropolis gamers, for all their miasma of abilities, are likely to panic when disallowed area for an extended time period. Chelsea did precisely that, stifling the area, which they’ve adopted all through Tuchelian days and towards all groups.

Thus, Chelsea’s was a triumph of structural self-discipline and hard-drilled patterns moderately than tactical inventiveness. Tuchel clung onto his profitable, repeated system whereas Guardiola couldn’t resist tweaking, and sought an ill-fated invention. Perhaps, on one other day he would have pulled this off, possibly he has drawn a blueprint to beat Tuchel’s Chelsea in future, however in Porto, continuity and not change prevailed supreme.

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