Europe 1 with AFP / Photo credit: 22:30 p.m., June 09, 2023On the eve of the Champions League final between Manchester City and Inter Milan, Citizens coach Pep Guardiola is aiming for a historic treble league-C1-FA cup. A historic year for the club that confirms the exceptional qualities of the coach.
Beyond a historic treble league-cup-Champions League, a victory of Manchester City against Inter Milan on Saturday in the final, in Istanbul, would definitely silence the rare criticisms of Pep Guardiola. Even more than two years ago against Chelsea (0-1), City will be favorite against the 3rd in Serie A after outclassing Bayern Munich in the quarters and Real Madrid, defending champions, in the semis.
With his 11 league titles in 14 seasons with Barcelona, Bayern and the Citizens, the Catalan technician is widely regarded as one of the best coaches of his generation, if not of all time. But the 12 years since his second and final European title are an embarrassing shadow on the table, especially as his tactical choices have sometimes been pointed out in his three consecutive failures with Bayern in the last four, then the five years he took to spend the quarters with City.
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Ability to innovate
If he has sometimes "gamberged" in the Champions League, his ability to innovate, surprise, adapt is undoubtedly one of the secrets of his incredible longevity at the highest level. During the seven years under his command, the Sky Blues showed very different faces: the team with the fire-follets Leroy Sané and Raheem Sterling on the wings and the "killer" Sergio Agüero in the axis, then the one with Bernardo Silva, Phil Foden, even Ilkay Gündogan in "false nine", when the injuries of Agüero and the failure of the recruitment of Harry Kane, in the summer of 2021, had left him without a centre-forward.
And if Erling Haaland, who filled that gap last summer, was a player poles apart from what Guardiola usually looks for on paper, his 52 goals in his first season are further proof that the Catalan's "football IQ" remains unsurpassable. "Pep makes you understand that football is easier than you think," Fernandinho, a former iconic Citizens captain, recently explained in an interview with Alan Shearer for The Atheltic.
"I knew him when I was 30, I worked with him for 7 years and he helped me progress technically, tactically, physically. The way I see football today, I've never seen it like this before I met it." However, we could speak of a change in continuity, as the principles are clear and the statistics immutable: City have consistently been the team with the highest ball possession, who make the fewest long passes, suffer the fewest shots and have always been, or at all, the best attack at the same time as the best defense.
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Winning the C1 is "unavoidable"
"Basically, nothing" has changed over the years, Guardiola said last week. "I don't remember a game where I didn't tell my players not to press when the opponent has the ball, and I don't remember a day when we didn't try to build our actions as best we could. The fundamentals have always been rigorously the same from day one to today," he insisted.
All these trophies, all these certainties will not weigh heavily at the kick-off on Saturday. Only victory will be beautiful "Even if I do not agree with it, I understand that everything we have done over the years (which has been a lot and very good), will only really make sense for others if we win this competition," he admitted on the UEFA website. "We must also accept that if we want to take a decisive step to be a great club (...) we have to win the Champions League, it's unavoidable."