Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City has finally broken the UEFA Champions League knockout stage hoodoo as they beat Paris Saint-Germain in the semi-finals to book a place in the final of the competition for the first time in the club’s history. The previous best under Guardiola was the quarter-finals stage but the Spaniard made sure that this year, nothing could stop him from booking a place in Istanbul for the final of a trophy that he so desperately desires.
But how did Guardiola and his team manage to break their knockout stage nerves and reach the final? Let’s find out.
FINALLY A DEFENCE HE CAN TRUST
Since Pep Guardiola has been at Manchester City, the club has gone on to spend extensively to get their defensive line together. But finally this season, it seemed like they found the final piece of the jigsaw puzzle, and that was Ruben Dias. A potential candidate for the signing of the season award, there’s no doubt that Dias has improved the defensive standards of the club and those around him.
This robust nature of the defence was quite visible in the two legs against PSG in the semi-finals. One cannot say that City totally bossed the tie even though the aggregate score of 4-1 will tell you a different story. PSG were very much in this tie and in both the legs were by far the superior team in the first halves of both games. But City’s defence stayed solid and didn’t succumb under pressure as they have done in the seasons gone by. Dias is very much a critical factor in this along with the rejuvenated form of John Stones. The centre-back duo was ready to put their bodies on the line and it showed in the intensity with which they defended in these games.
DIDN’T TINKER MUCH WITH THE PLAYING STYLE
Guardiola over the years has been guilty of making last-minute changes before a crucial knockout Champions League tie depending on the opponent his team is up against. These moves, whether it was to play without a striker at Anfield in 2018 or whether it was to play three at the back against Lyon in the previous season, have backfired and Guardiola was solely to blame for this.
This season, he kept things simpler and trusted the system they had been playing for months in the domestic competitions. Guardiola persisted with a false nine formation which has allowed his team to dominate the Premier League this season. Even though people were asking for a change after a poor first half in Paris, he stuck to his formation and it paid off. This has allowed the team to get stability and believe in their own abilities rather than making adjustments depending on the opposition.
EMPTY STADIUMS HELPED CITY
Some teams seem to have improved when it comes to playing in empty stadiums while some have suffered. City for sure fall in the former category as it is a well-oiled machine and their intensity isn’t solely dependent on the atmosphere in the stadium.
We’ve seen in the past that the team has struggled to cope up with the pressure of playing away from home in few of the best stadiums of Europe in the Champions League but this season they didn’t have to deal with any of that. The trip to Borussia Dortmund in the quarter-finals for example, wouldn’t have been the same with the Yellow Army singing their lungs out in the stadium. City just took each game as it came and it didn’t make a difference whether it was at home or away and the results are there for everyone to see.
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