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Thursday, April 18, 2024

THOMAS TUCHEL PUT THE MAN CITY MANAGER IN A SPIN

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Pep Guardiola has had many great coaching rivalries, and more often than not he has come out on top when it matters most. But his battle with Thomas Tuchel is the exception.

So imagine how the Catalan must have felt upon hearing the news that the German had been named as coach of Bayern Munich just weeks before Manchester City’s quarter-final tie against the Bundesliga giants.

Guardiola and Tuchel have known each other for a decade and their rivalry is built on respect and admiration, not bitterness. They even consider each other as friends.

“He’s so creative,” Guardiola said of the German last year. “One of the few managers I learn constantly from to develop as a better manager.

“[He is] excellent in all departments. I enjoyed him since he was in Mainz. I enjoy watching his teams and the way he’s playing and the approach. He makes world football better.”

Whether he’ll quite feel that way once the tie has been played out over the next couple of weeks, though, remains to be seen…

There must be a deep sense of frustration for Guardiola that Tuchel beat him in the 2021 Champions League final, the crowning glory in three successive victories for Chelsea over City inside two months.

City beat Tuchel’s Chelsea twice since then, but there remains a sense that Guardiola has unfinished business with his old friend.

Tuchel is the one top manager who Guardiola cannot say he has managed to dominate.

The Catalan’s world-beating Barcelona side outclassed Sir Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United in two Champions League finals.

He also had the upper hand over Jose Mourinho in Spain during a turbulent two-year saga when the Portuguese was in charge of Real Madrid, while Guardiola was unquestionably the winner when he and Mourinho were on opposite sides of the divide in Manchester.

The Catalan has had a compelling and gripping rivalry with Jurgen Klopp too, but has ultimately lifted four Premier League titles to the Liverpool boss’ one.

Tuchel, however, is the manager who wrecked City’s hopes of winning the quadruple and ensured his long wait to get his hands on the Champions League trophy again would drag on.

When Guardiola first came up against Tuchel in October 2013, he was already a double-Champions League winner, while his opponent was in the early stages of his career, doing an impressive job at unglamorous Mainz.

When his Bayern Munich side easily beat Mainz 4-1 that afternoon, or recorded a 2-0 away win later in the season, it is unlikely Guardiola would have felt threatened by the man in the adjacent dugout, even if he had admired the way his side played.

But little did he know that in years to come the gangly German would turn into one of his greatest rivals.

Guardiola and Tuchel met again two years later when the latter was in charge of Borussia Dortmund, and their first meeting in Der Klassiker was another cakewalk for the Catalan, his side running riot in a 5-1 win.

But that would be one of the last times he enjoyed such domination over Tuchel.

Dortmund held Bayern to a 0-0 draw in their next league game, and in the final of the 2016 DFB-Pokal at the end of the season, although the Bavarians did win the penalty shootout to give Guardiola a glorious farewell from his three years in charge.

Guardiola headed to England and enjoyed a blissful five years without coming up against Tuchel. But when Chelsea sacked Frank Lampard in January 2021 they turned to a man who had recently been sacked by Paris Saint-Germain, and so began a manic two-month period in which Guardiola was given the runaround by his old adversary.

City had tangible hopes of becoming the first English side to win all four major trophies in the 2020-21 season, but their plans were wrecked by Tuchel and Chelsea, who won a cagey FA Cup semi-final 1-0.

Tuchel had turned Chelsea from a dishevelled mess in the last days of Lampard into a highly organised unit that ran on military-like precision, and at an empty Wembley Stadium, Chelsea ceded the ball to City yet starved them of space.

Although Guardiola’s side had more chances, Chelsea had the better opportunities, and Hakim Ziyech broke the deadlock in the second half, sliding home to meet a Timo Werner cross.

It was Tuchel’s first win against Guardiola from six attempts and it would not be his last. But it could also be argued that Guardiola had plotted his own downfall.

He had made eight changes from the side that had beaten Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League a few days earlier, and his second-choice goalkeeper Zack Steffen was particularly guilty of bad positioning for the goal.

Guardiola’s first Premier League meeting with Tuchel looked set to be a glorious occasion, with a victory enough for the Etihad Stadium outfit to seal the title.

And City got off to a strong start when Raheem Sterling put them ahead before half-time, and moments later they won a penalty.

But Sergio Aguero’s botched attempt at a ‘Panenka’ was easily saved by Edouard Mendy, and Chelsea launched a comeback, Ziyech equalising before Marcos Alonso’s injury-time winner.

City had to put their champagne on ice, and while the result mattered little as they were confirmed champions three days later, no-one could ignore that Tuchel had beaten Guardiola twice in two attempts.

Guardiola had no excuses about rotation or his players not being up for it in the Champions League final, which was hastily moved from Istanbul to Porto due to coronavirus restrictions.

But once more, he lost the tactical battle to Tuchel.

In the latest installment in his long-running series of mad moves in crunch Champions League matches, Guardiola lined up without both a natural holding midfielder or a natural striker.

He benched Fernandinho and Rodri, leaving Ilkay Gundogan as his deepest-lying midfielder, while Kevin De Bruyne played as a false nine, with Sergio Aguero and Gabriel Jesus both named as substitutes.

Chelsea, playing Tuchel’s favoured 3-4-2-1 formation with Reece James and Ben Chilwell as wide players, had the run of the midfield and dominated proceedings, with N’Golo Kante and Jorginho orchestrating the play.

Timo Werner missed two sitters before Kai Havertz knocked in the opening goal, after City centre-backs John Stones and Ruben Dias were dragged out of position.

City didn’t have the best of luck, losing De Bruyne to a head injury early in the second half, but they failed to truly test Chelsea, with the likes of Antonio Rudiger, Chilwell and Cesar Azpilicueta all putting their bodies on the line to see out the victory.

While Tuchel avenged his defeat in the previous year’s final, Guardiola had to digest his first loss in club football’s biggest game.

Guardiola had a summer to digest the Champions League defeat, and for his next meeting with Tuchel in September 2021, he got everything right as City utterly dominated Chelsea at Stamford Bridge and ended the Blues’ unbeaten start to the Premier League season.

Gabriel Jesus’ deflected goal proved the difference, but really City could have scored four goals, such was their hegemony in a game that was billed as being between two title contenders.

This time the Catalan sprung no real surprises, with Rodri anchoring the midfield and Jesus as the central striker. Perhaps he should have done that in the biggest game of them all?

City beat Chelsea by the same scoreline at the Etihad Stadium the following January, and though it was a closer game, De Bruyne won it with a stunning long-range curler, further restoring the balance between Guardiola and Tuchel.

In 10 matches between them at five separate clubs, Guardiola has won five, drawn two (including the German Cup final) and lost three.

For the man who is considered to be his kryptonite, it is not a bad record for the Catalan.

But the Champions League final still stings, and Guardiola now has the chance to settle the score in another blockbuster European occasion, all while also getting one over his former club.

Don’t bet against him making the most of it this time. Source: goal.com

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