Guardiola Was Too Smart For His Own Good As Man City Lost To Chelsea

The really unfathomable part at the end of it all was why Pep Guardiola felt minded to kiss his runners-up medal.

Others, like the tear-streaked Oleksandr Zinchenko, ripped theirs from around their necks and trudged away to contemplate the utter wretchedness of it all.

Guardiola even made a joke about the losers’ medal when receiving his.

When it comes to Guardiola and crucial moments in the Champions League, things really do make no sense at all.

He knew from bitter experience that major structural change to the team at a moment like this can bite you.

His Manchester City team were eliminated at the quarter final stage last season by Lyon when, for reasons known only to him, he overhauled the team structure and put five at the back.

His attack was left light, his defence was left bewildered and City lost 3-1.

This time, he stripped out all the midfield muscle, leaving Ilkay Gundogan as the sole holding midfielder and exposing his team to the fluid attacking thrusts of a Chelsea side which looked the faster, freer team all night.

When I meet Pep, I go home and write down what he says, so as not to forget it,’ Thomas Tuchel said in his pre-match interview. No notes were required last night.

It seem at times that Guardiola simply has too much creative talent for his own good.

That line he likes to use about wanting ’11 midfielders’ clouds all judgement about the fundamental, old-fashioned requirement to marry attack and defence that even applies to beautiful football teams like his. Such prosaic considerations seem to be beneath his brilliant mind.

On this occasion, City suffered desperately for it. The hole Guardiola blew in his own ranks, by omitting Fernandinho, was exposed from the game’s early stages.

There was the briefest stutter from Chelsea in the initial exchanges but thereafter they exploited at will City’s incapacity to stem their raids.

The flanks bore the brunt. Timo Werner was in behind Oleksandr Zinchenko twice in the first three minutes, leaving John Stones struggling to make cover and Ruben Dias needing to intervene.

But right across the field, City were so intent on weaving attacking patterns that they did not seem to have considered Chelsea had some ambitions of their own for the final third.

As it turned out, the ace up Guardiola’s sleeve, Raheem Sterling, for whom Fernandinho was dropped, could not lay a glove on Chelsea.

Reece James’ marshalling of him was a huge statement of what the 21-year-old can bring. James eclipsed both Mount and Phil Foden, the young Englishmen who had dominated the pre-match narrative.

Guardiola seems so convinced in his powers that he also discounts the idea of his players becoming confused.

Just once all season had City started a game without either of the holding pair of Fernandinho and Gundogan.

Not since February had Sterling started a Champions League game. This did not seem like the ideal moment for a grand experiment.

The managerial body language gave the impression that Tuchel was the manager with the better attitude.

He radiated enthusiasm in the pre-match interviews, joking about selling all the Chelsea tickets to supporters who liked him as he stood in his rather garish, Chelsea-issue Champions League final track suit top.

Guardiola, prickly in his interviews, wouldn’t be seen dead in an outfit like that. While he was mapping out a myriad of complexities, Tuchel was simply making pragmatic decisions about how best to deploy his players.

‘We wanted to be the stone in their shoe,’ he said when it was all over. ‘The stone in the City clock.’

It can only have made it worse for Guardiola that N’Golo Kante – the heartbeat of Tuchel’s team – was living, breathing evidence of what a holding midfielder could actually bring.

Kante was barely discernible as the trophy was hoisted. His 5ft 6in frame was lost in the melee. But when Kevin de Bruyne and Phil Foden tried to move the ball between the lines, he simply would not let them breathe.

The game was just beyond its hour mark when Fernandinho arrived in place of Bernardo Silva to shore things up, in what was a frank admission that the attacking set-up he’d started with had simply not worked. But by then, the game had gone.

Fortified by Havertz’s strike, prosaic Chelsea players who no-one had seemed to have talked about – Andreas Christensen, Antonio Rudiger – as well as James and Ben Chilwell were hell-bent on keeping City out.

It was hard to read the body language when City chairman Khaldoon al-Mubarak shook Guardiola’s hand in the aftermath.

City’s Abu Dhabi owners have spent the best part of 15 years waiting for but when it came to the crunch the manager was just too smart for his own good.

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