Crazy conductor Pep Guardiola sees Champions League dream crumble | Champions League
AAt the final whistle in the Estádio do Dragão, as the air blew through the stadium roof and the night sky crackled with eerie and overwhelming energy, Pep Guardiola walked away into a green space and a looked.
He moved away from the capricious figures, skirting them tactfully like a danger in a stream. He ran a hand over his shining skull, strangely tender in all the noise and light.
Finally, he noticed Sergio Agüero standing all alone nearby and walked in for a nervous hug. Oh, Pep. You do it to yourself. You do. And that’s what really hurts.
All the glory to Chelsea, European champion and victorious machine of a brilliantly managed half-season. There will be time to unwrap this 1-0 victory, and a moment of footballing ultimate for Thomas Tuchel five months after his dismissal by Paris Saint-Germain. But it was also, inevitably, a Pep joint. On an exciting summer night on the outskirts of Porto, the defining tactical mastermind of the time sent the strongest team in Europe to face a team that had lost three of their last four games. And again, he blinked.
Manchester City have been irresistible for the past five months. Manchester City found a form, a set of rhythms that carried them across the pitch without interrupting the stride. Default City, City’s base momentum should, other things being equal, have presented their best chances of winning the Champions League final.
How, welcome back, doubt, uncertainty, damaging obsession. I was waiting for you. When the town crew fell, 10 minutes before 7 p.m., there was an electric tremor around that large open concrete bowl.
Was it a printing error? Guardiola not only removed the handbrake here, he sheared it with an angle grinder and threw it out the passenger window.
On paper, there has only been one real change, with Raheem Sterling and Fernandinho and / or Rodri absent. But with that blow, Guardiola had taken an entire position out of his squad, choosing to advance to a Champions League final without a single career defensive midfielder, with a defensive pivot that was also (there’s a clue here) City’s top scorer.
It looked confusing, a city team that was all gravy, no linguine. What about things like balance and ballast? What about trying to win by winning, rather than winning by an act of tactical messianism. Well, if we don’t play by the rules, how about trying it once or twice before the biggest game of your post-Barca career?
“[Ilkay] Gündogan has played there before, ”Guardiola shrugged afterwards of his recovery from the defensive pivot. Gündogan is an excellent footballer. But the most recent occasion that comes to mind was Germany’s 6-0 loss to Spain.
There were 16,500 people inside the Estádio do Dragão at the kick-off, but it was like more, such was the delicious sensory shock to be there in all this space, this light and this noise. It was a feeling that seemed to be passed on to City players.
The midfielder looked like a three at first, then became one with two in front for a while. It was fluid, it was loose, it was a whirlwind, the kind of rhythms that set players free, but also place enormous demands on their intelligence in the game, the ability to read the flow. For five minutes, the prospect was lifted with a devastating total triumph in midfield.
And then for a while, City kind of fell apart. Suddenly there were spaces, channels opening up in the end line. Three times Chelsea have been able to make their way, disappointed each time by the reverse impression of Timo Werner, the man who cannot be called back, who will never stop, but who also refuses to kill you. Werner really should have scored twice and set the day decisively in a way.
Throughout it all, Pep was standing in the form of a mad Modernist conductor, swirling and rushing, doing two-handed, rapid-firing midges, pointing at things he could only see objects. , planes, holes, possibilities.
Couldn’t Guardiola see what was going on in front of him? Did he feel his destiny fixed, Birnam Wood already walking up the hill? Why, to put it more concretely, did he not simply strengthen this midfielder to allow this team to play as they did?
As half-time approached, Chelsea scored the goal they had almost but not quite scored in 42 minutes. It was surprisingly easy, achieved by a single pass that went through the heart of this city formation like a hot knife in butter made specifically, and to order, without any added Fernandinho.
Mason Mount took the ball with so much time, too much time, a hole in City’s shared energy field, and sent a long pass on the way to Kai Havertz’s run into the heart of the midfielder of the city.
The ball traveled 45 yards along the ground uninterrupted, straight into that long, impatient stride, the stride of a Victorian householder completing a particularly rugged cross-country run early in the morning. There was no flesh, no obstacle, no part of this city team to create resistance. Havertz walked around Ederson and rolled the ball into an empty net.
As a goal against, it was an embarrassment, proof of a fundamental dysfunction of the structure. At half-time, the city players were left puzzled.
Finally, with an hour gone, Fernandinho made an appearance, breaking into that center hole and restoring order as City belatedly started to turn their spring up, to apply those weather pressure fronts to Chelsea’s goal. Either way, they never really seemed to score.
Then came that final whistle and the march, the arrogance, the human frailty to invite him to himself; and the strange imperfect beauty of that 10-year walk to reach this place.