Five times Pep Guardiola tried too hard with Man City ahead of Real Madrid clash

He's won dozens of trophies in three of Europe's major leagues and his unique style has changed the way both many managers and players alike see and play the game. So Pep Guardiola is rightly regarded as one of the greatest managers past or present.

Whilst Man City boss he has won every available domestic prize and achieved feats never seen before in the English game, including recording 100 league points in 2018 and a domestic clean-sweep a year later.

Yet a Champions League trophy remains elusive since his last win with Barcelona in 2011. And many pundits and fans believe he needs to guide the Blues to their first victory in Europe's primary competition if his time at the Etihad is to be deemed a true success.

One of the major criticism's levelled at Guardiola, is his supposed tendency is to 'overthink' tactics and selections -leading to some car crash performances and results – in major games. "I love to overthink and create stupid tactics," Pep said, tongue firmly in cheek, before their quarter-final victory over Atletico Madrid last month.

"I overthink a lot, that’s why I have very good results in the Champions League. It would be boring if my job, all the time, we had to play the same way" he added.

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However, it's a tendency that will again come under serious scrutiny as City stand on the cusp of a second final in two years. The Premier League leaders face Real Madrid at the Bernabeu on Wednesday needing to defend a 4-3 first-leg lead to set up a blockbuster showdown with Liverpool in Paris on May 28.

Ahead of the game, we look at five times Pep may have tried to hard in the competition with City and ended up damaging his winning machine as a result.

2021 Champions League final v Chelsea

There can be no greater example of experimental tactics by the Blues' legendary boss backfiring than in last season's Champions League final. City went on an incredible run of 21 consecutive wins from December 2020 until March 2021 to see them recover from eighth place on Christmas Day to claim the Premier League title with three games to spare.

What's even more remarkable is that they did so playing without a recognised striker for large parts of the season, with club legend Sergio Aguero very much a bit-part figure in his last season at the Etihad. Indeed Pep used the 'false 9' system to great effect when the Blues beat PSG 4-1 on aggregate in the semi-finals meaning they were strong favourites against Chelsea in the final.

However ahead of the showpiece, which was switched to Porto's Estádio do Dragão to allow more British fans to attend, he was faced with the dilemma of who from Kevin De Bruyne, Ilkay Gundogan, Raheem Sterling, Riyad Mahrez, Phil Foden and Bernardo Silva to choose for his usual five attacking midfield and forward positions.

His solution was to play them all. Gundogan, the club's top scorer, was given the task of anchoring the midfield with both Rodi and Fernandinho, who had figured in 60 out of 61 games for City that season individually or together, both being left on the bench. "Our way is to attack," he said before kick-off.

However, that gung-ho philosophy failed to pay dividends with Jorghino and Kante dominating the midfield for Chelsea before Kai Havertz put them ahead three minutes before half-time.

Kevin De Bruyne, chosen to lead the Blues' attack, was forced off 12 minutes after the break with a serious facial injury. Sacrificing Bernardo for Fernandinho just after the hour mark, and the introductions of Gabriel Jesus and Sergio Aguero in the 60th and 77th minute respectively failed to turn the tide and Thomas Tuchel's side held on to claim the trophy.

Afterwards, Pep defended his decision pointing out Gundogan had been effective in the holding role for them previously. “I did my best in the selection. I made the best selection to win the game, the players know it" he said. “I think Gundogan played well.

"We missed a little in the first half to break the lines, but in the second half, it was much better. It was a tight game but we had enormous chances."

2020 Champions League Quarter-final vs Lyon

One of the reasons behind Pep's surprise in the final Porto may have been the events of the Blues' quarter-final just a few hundred miles away, a year earlier.

The pandemic saw the latter stages of the competition changed to one-off games, all being held in Lisbon, after football resumed in the summer of 2020. The Blues drew French Lyon in the Quarter-finals. Despite the French side having beat them at the Etihad in the group stage in 2018, and knocking out Juventus in the previous round, Pep's men were heavy favourites to progress to the semis.

So it was a huge surprise when he threw out the 4-3-3 formation which they had employed for almost the entirety of the rest of the season and reverted to a three-man defence, which they had used only a handful of times, in order to match their opponents.

Fernandinho, who played as a makeshift centre-half for much of that campaign and Spaniard Eric Garcia accompanied Aymeric Laporte at the back. Fernandinho and Rodri were also paired together in central midfield in the extremely cautious line-up which saw Blues hero David Silva, Bernardo Silva, Riyad Mahrez and Phil Foden all left on the bench.

Now Burnley striker Maxwel Cornet's 24th minute strike stunned the Blues. Mahrez's introduction 11 minutes into the second half made a difference. However, despite Kevin Bruyne equalising in the 69th minute, former Celtic striker Moussa Dembele restored the Ligue 1 side's lead in the 79th minute and the referee and VAR ignored appeals for a foul on Laporte in the build-up.

And he wrapped up the win in three minutes from the end, after Raheem Sterling had blazed over from yards out with the goal gaping just moments earlier.

A frustrated Kevin De Bruyne said it was a "different year, same stuff" following their shock exit. But Pep was defiant. “In this competition, the tactics are not the most important thing,” Guardiola said in his press conference. "They (Lyon) are so fast and our central defenders are not so quick so I didn’t want to leave them two versus two.

“We worked for three days on this, we discussed it and we reviewed this and when you play like we did in the last 20 minutes it shows the system is not the problem.”

2018 Champions League Quarter-final first leg v Liverpool

The infamous 'double pivot' – in layman's terms two holding midfielders – was also been employed to disastrous effect in the quarter-finals against Liverpool in 2018.

Jurgen Klopp's men had inflicted City's first league defeat of the season at Anfield back in January. And that is perhaps what persuaded Pep to pair Ilkay Gundogan with Fernandinho in the centre of midfield to try and assert some control.

Raheem Sterling was benched against his former club and Aymeric Laporte was shifted to left-back in order to try and marshall Mohammed Salah.

Yet Liverpool swarmed all over City, who, in reality, lost the tie inside a whirlwind first half an hour of the first leg where they went 3-0 down. Salah opened the scoring on 12 minutes with Alex-Oxlade Chamberlain adding a second and Sadio Mane making it three on 31 minutes.

Despite a dubious offside call ruling out a Gabriel Jesus strike they were unable peg one back. And in the second-leg at the Etihad another goal, this time from Leroy Sane, was controversially chalked off just before half-time with the Blues 1-0 up. Pep was sent off and given a touchline ban for exploding at the referee Mateu Lahoz. Second-half goals from Mohammed Salah and Roberto Firmo then wrapped up the tie for the Merseysiders who eventually lost to Real Madrid in the final.

2017 Champions League last-16 second leg vs Monaco

Despite a title challenge failing to materialise in Pep's first season at the Etihad, Blues' fans began dreaming of Champions League success after they won an utterly thrilling first leg of their last 16 tie with Monaco 5-3 thanks to three goals in the last 20 minutes.

The French side, who pipped PSG to the title that year, and contained the likes of Fabinho, Bernardo Silva, Radamel Falcao and a young Kylian Mbappe, had already plundered over 100 goals by February and showed in the first leg just how dangerous they could be.

Taking a two-goal advantage to the Stade Louis II many pundits urged Guardiola to curb his usual attacking instincts in a bid to defend the lead.

However, Guardiola said "we are going to fly to Monaco to score as many goals as possible" insisting "if we don't score we will be eliminated."

As a result, left-back Aleksandr Kolarov was shifted to centre-half with Fernandinho being left to marshal the centre of midfield on his own with Champions League winner Yaya Toure left on the bench. Raheem Sterling, Kevin De Bruyne, David Silva, Leroy Sane were employed behind Sergio Aguero in a five-pronged attack.

Goals from Mbappe and Fabinho inside the first half an hour eradicated City's first-leg lead and despite Leroy Sane again nudging them ahead in the tie with a goal in the 77th minute, Tiémoué Bakayoko's header six minutes later was enough for Monaco to progress on away goals with the aggregate score 6-6.

City will be thankful the away goals rule has now gone meaning Real Madrid's three at the Etihad last week don't count for any more.

2019 Champions League Quarter-final first leg vs Tottenham

Everyone remembers Raheem Sterling's injury-time strike, which would have sent the Blues through, being dramatically ruled out for offside by VAR to break City hearts and see Spurs progress to the semis.

However, it was the first leg at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium where, in reality, the damage was done. Just like Liverpool this term, City, who were on a 14 game winning streak, were going for the quadruple having won the Carabao Cup and being top of the Premier League and still in the FA Cup.

It was perhaps with fixture pile-up in mind he left normal mainstays of the team Vincent Kompany and Kevin De Bruyne on the bench. Whilst Ilkay Gundogan and Fernandinho were again paired together in midfield, perhaps with the aim of keeping things tight ahead of the return fixture. Things could have been different had Sergio Aguero converted a first-half penalty and given City a vital away goal.

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But the selection of Fabian Delph at left-back backfired with Son Heung-min giving him a torrid time and his late strike gave Spurs a 1-0 first leg aggregate lead to take to the Etihad.

The second leg turned into a memorable thriller. However, City were left to rue their lack of an away goal with Fernando Llorente's 73rd-minute effort, which could well have been ruled out for handball, making it 4-3, enough to send Spurs, who eventually lost to Liverpool in the final, through on the away goals rule with the aggregate score 4-4.

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