Pep Guardiola pays price after Champions League final gamble failure

Pep Guardiola’s genius can never be questioned after a management career that’s produced a blizzard of trophies in Spain, Germany and England.

But Manchester City fans had a sense of fore-boding after their Messiah went potty in Portugal once again – with a Champions League final line-up that put his stars on the back foot against Chelsea.

In Lisbon last summer Guardiola tinkered with his team in the quarter-finals against Lyon – and it back-fired dramatically as the French under-dogs won.

And City’s Spanish boss played with fire again in the Estadio do Dragao with another gamble that put his stars on the back-foot in Europe’s show-piece game.

The Premier League is used to a City side with a false number nine, full-backs who play like wingers and midfielders who score for fun.

Guardiola ripped up his winning formula for the showdown with Chelsea

But for only the second time in his Etihad reign, Guardiola chose a team without any holding midfielder.

And against a Chelsea boss in Thomas Tuchel who has got his number after two wins already in the League and FA Cup in the last six weeks that seemed a foolish folly – especially with City chasing their European dream.

Guardiola has the Midas touch and that’s why he’s been loved at every club he’s managed.

And even with stakes so high Guardiola didn’t flinch from demanding brave football from his stars with a line-up that promised attacking mayhem.

While Tuchel played with a protective screen of N’Golo Kante and Jorginho in front of his defenders Guardiola left Fernandinho and Rodri on the bench.

Instead he went large with a front six that oozed goals and menace in a show of ballsy attacking intent.

You can take your pick whether that was courageous – or crackers.

But it gave Chelsea a boost they couldn’t have expected.

And in a fabulous first half Tuchel’s took full advantage scoring close to half time with a beautifully crafted move inspired by Mason Mount and finished expertly by kai Havertz after rounding Ederson.

From the start Chelsea looked more balanced, a team with a plan even though destiny and history were calling for City.

For large spells City were off the pace and predictable, a different version from the team who rampaged to their third Premier League title in four seasons.

It didn’t help losing talisman Kevin De Bruyne after a sickening clash with Antonio Rudiger that left the Belgian star dazed and in tears as he was replaced after 59 minutes.

Fernandinho and Sergio Aguero eventually came on but Chelsea could easily have been 2-0 up after a rapid break and narrow miss by Christian Pulisic.

It might have been on the banks of the River Douro, a long way from Blighty– but football came home in Porto.

This was what we’ve missed – an epic Champions League Final tussle between two of the Premier League’s finest with Chelsea and Manchester City fans making it a night to remember.

Forget the fake crowd noise this was full-on football reality after so many months of silence – and it showcased the best of English football.

The beauty of the iconic Champions League trophy, lifted by some of the giants of football never dims.

Did you agree with Guardiola’s City line-up? Comment below.

Neither does the enduring magic of a European final that captivates a global audience way beyond Uefa borders.

There might only have been around 16,500 fans in the Estadio do Dragao but it wouldn’t have mattered if there’d been 100,000.

The excitement amongst those lucky ones watching their heroes have a crack at winning the Champions League offers a thrill like no other.

Absurd, then, that both Chelsea and City were willing to forfeit experiencing this greatest of nights for the vacuous sideshow of a European Super League.

For it’s on stages like this that dreams are made or shattered. Where the search for glory is at it’s most intense.

The kind of competition that would have been rendered redundant if the lunatics who signed up for the ESL had got their way.

And for a City team striving to write the biggest chapter of a history that’s only started to evolve in the last decade or so, it was a half-baked idea that would have deprived their fans of occasions like this.

Because every City supporter who made the trip to northern Portugal or tuned in back home knows this is the stage Guardiola wants to dominate with the help of Sheikh Mansour’s generous backing.

Sadly for them they’ll have to keep their Euro champagne on ice.

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