95 Crucial Minutes.. Five Ideas to Help Pep Guardiola Reach Istanbul

We expect to add a slight adjustment in the return match, I have some idea of ​​what we should do in that match.

  • Pep Guardiola


Despite Pep's admiration for his team's performance in the match against Real Madrid at the Bernabeu, this did not calm the disturbing perfectionist within him, as he stated that he needs to make a couple of adjustments in the return match at the Etihad Stadium in less than a week from now.

But why not listen, even if just for once, to this perfectionist's plea? And why not take into consideration what he "might" be thinking? Here, we must remind you that despite the outstanding first half played by City, in addition to some periods in the second half, the team was unable to create real scoring chances throughout the game. And if Manchester City's expected goals statistic (0.6), which is the lowest for the team in a single match this season, is not evidence of this, then what is?

This is due to many factors that Pep later discussed in the post-match press conference, such as the roles of Toni Kroos and Fede Valverde in closely monitoring Kevin De Bruyne and Ilkay Gundogan, in order to limit the danger of their movements in the internal corridors between the center-back and the full-back on both sides. Thus, the defense was able to focus on the harder task entrusted to them, which is monitoring Erling Haaland and depriving him of the sufficient space to do what he usually does.

Perhaps if we listen to the voice of perfection within Pep and his obsession with details, we may realize that he can fix some of the issues we saw at the Bernabeu.

Greater Mobility

Pep once talked about Kevin De Bruyne's strengths, with the most prominent being his mobility. It compensates for his weaknesses in retaining the ball under pressure and in tight spaces. This makes things more challenging for him when City faces opponents who exhibit extreme compactness both horizontally and vertically, as he doesn't find the suitable space to harm the opponent with his passes. Perhaps his teammates are unable to constantly provide him with that freedom.

That's why Pep always tries to create the appropriate contexts for the Belgian player to exploit his strengths. For example, when the winger hugs the touchline and widens the field against the opponent (everyone knows that City's wingers have high technical abilities), they draw the attention of one or two players from the opposing team on the flanks. This creates an opportunity for Kevin to exploit the space behind them, usually in the internal corridors. He then has the necessary central superiority, even if only for a few seconds, to play a cross and surprise his opponents.

Regarding the roles of Kroos and Valverde, Kevin didn't have the opportunity to move freely as usual. The Real Madrid duo stuck to him and Gundogan, as mentioned earlier, depriving them of central superiority. Here, we must remember what Pep said about De Bruyne, that he cannot control the tempo but rather thrives on dynamism. He comes from behind, possesses the ability to finish, and, of course, plays crosses, "less control and much greater mobility," as Pep stated.

Therefore, perhaps what Pep is thinking is an attempt to find better contexts for Kevin to achieve central superiority. If you look at one of City's attempts at the beginning of the second half and observe the movements made by the players and the outcome it led to, you might understand what we mean, or rather, what Pep wants, and the voice that strives for perfection within him.

Perhaps the mobility displayed in the above moments caused some of City's most dangerous moments in the entire match, despite Kevin falling into the offside trap in the end. This is what was lacking for City in the first half, specifically, despite the continuous, somewhat rushed threat to Thibaut Courtois' goal. They need to find that fluidity once again before the clash at the Etihad, or history may repeat itself.

The Stones Gamble

Well, we know that John Stones' role within the City system has changed from what it used to be. However, this is not the first time that Stones has played a different role from his original position as a defender. He previously played as a full-back under Pep himself. Now he plays as a false full-back in the build-up phase. So, there is no objection to him playing as an actual full-back when City gains control of the ball in the final third of the opponent's half, isn't that right?

Once again, we come back to Kevin. One reason for the Belgian's struggle on that front against Real Madrid is that he didn't receive the appropriate numerical support against Casemiro, Kroos, and Modric on many occasions, along with Alaba, who operates on that side as well but closer to the depth. So, why not utilize Stones here?

Why not imagine Stones making an overlapping run, either on the outside or the inside, where he drags one of the mentioned players from the Merengues' side, creating the gap that Kevin De Bruyne can exploit most effectively? If it's an outside run, the Belgian can deliver a cross from the right interior channel. If it's an inside run, then he can perform the outside run and deliver a cross from the far right side.

In both scenarios, the ball is likely to reach the penalty area, and at that point, Ancelotti will probably seek to increase the numerical presence of his players inside the box in the defensive phase, as we have seen on many occasions in the first leg.

Because of that, Rodrygo, in addition to the defensive trio, can provide defensive cover on Benzema, Vinicius, and Rodrygo as well. Perhaps there is some risk involved, and risk is not Pep's style, but everything has a first time.

A Little Sharpness Wouldn't Hurt

We can't say that City is not a sharp team, whether it's in terms of ball possession or defensive phases out of possession. However, a small extra dose of sharpness won't harm anyone, especially when complacency leads to unforeseen consequences. It could result in a dangerous attacking transition or a change in the direction of play to create a one-on-one situation in a wide space, potentially leading to a clear-cut opportunity, as was nearly the case on multiple occasions in the match.

During the transition, the team needs to remain as focused as possible, as it increases numerical pressure on one front, creating favorable space on the other side if an opponent decides to switch play to that side. Here, one of Manchester City's problems against the Merengues emerged.

Real Madrid managed to relieve the pressure from City's left flank, and due to Kevin's complacency, whether it was in pressing Toni Kroos or attempting to close off the passing lane to him, the ball easily reached the German player. He then changed the direction of play to Rodrygo on the opposite side, creating a one-on-one situation with Manuel Akanji, taking advantage of Carvajal's inward movement.

Real Madrid made several attempts to change the direction of play, as highlighted by Pep in the press conference after the match. It's clear that he wasn't pleased with the frequency and clarity of their adherence to that pattern. City's players, for the most part, were unable to stop those attempts due to a lack of concentration and a slight lack of sharpness, which is something you can't afford against Real Madrid, especially.

The Alvarez Factor

Well, I won't bore you with the player's numbers, although they are truly impressive. But we need to draw attention to Alvarez as a potential option for the return match, not necessarily in the starting lineup. It may depend on how the match unfolds, as Pep may not need him for one reason or another. However, based on what we saw in the first leg, Alvarez could be a help to Haaland in freeing himself from the tight marking of Real Madrid's defenders.

Haaland's movements at the Bernabeu were good, despite only touching the ball 21 times, the fewest among the starting players from both teams. His movements created space behind Rudiger when the ball reached him due to the German defender being forced out of position and his close marking. However, no one exploited those spaces, and this is where Alvarez's value comes into play.

The Argentinean can exploit spaces like those and, with his movements without the ball, he can attract the attention of one of Real Madrid's defenders or take advantage of their focus on marking Haaland, thus creating favourable opportunities to pounce on the ball when it reaches him.

He can move between the lines and contribute to delivering the ball to the opponent's final third. Perhaps Pep won't resort to such an idea from the beginning, but it deserves attention given what Real Madrid's defenders displayed against Erling.

The Dilemma of the 95 Minutes.

Football is 95 minutes

  • Pep Guardiola

Perhaps the scenarios of Pep's exit from the UEFA Champions League were not merciful to him and his approach to the game. His repetition of the above phrase is sufficient evidence for that. Perhaps no one can fully recover from an event like the one in the previous season at the Bernabeu, when Rodrigo scored two goals in less than a minute, changing the course of the match that ended with Real Madrid qualifying for Paris and winning the fourteenth championship.

Pep reiterated in this conference that the match is not about revenge, but rather an opportunity. It is a football match that lasts 95 minutes, and all his team needs to do is play well to achieve the desired victory. He acknowledged that they played an exceptional match in the first leg and a "good" match in the return leg, but it was certainly not enough, as he expressed.

We do not know; perhaps the man is in a state of denial or something similar, and maybe he wants to calm his players down because that might affect them during the match. This anxiety could lead to a lack of concentration during critical moments, as we saw with Rodrygo against Vinicius in one of the match's scenes, which would have turned into a goal if not for Robin Diaz's distraction.

Therefore, it may be a matter of the calmness that Pep is trying to instill in his players because he knows very well that tension against Real Madrid will not make things easier. This was evident in the match itself, as tension was apparent in the simplest decisions made by City players, from passing to shooting to simple defensive actions. All of them were characterized by panic, haste, and perhaps fear—the fear of making mistakes again in front of a team that knows very well how to exploit those mistakes to its advantage, as it possesses a mental advantage in those situations derived from its previous experiences in that tournament throughout its history, in addition to the extraordinary quality it also possesses.

Perhaps that perfectionism that accompanied Pep throughout his career was one of the reasons for his unparalleled success. However, as we know, it's not about a single factor or a single reason, but rather about the combination of those factors and ideas and their impact on the course of the game and their effect on the coach's clarity of mind in preparing his players for the promised day. This may contribute to the calmness and mental composure of the players in moments that require it.

Pep spoke clearly about something after the Bayern Munich match in Germany, stating that his team's players were mentally present in crucial moments of the game, which was previously lacking. It may not be a bad idea to listen to that voice within you, the voice that always seeks to achieve the best results without compromising the precision of the process that leads to those results. Even if it's not the most important factor, it still matters. Just ask Pep Guardiola.


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