Pep Guardiola and Carlo Ancelotti: Control against chaos in the Champions League

Scribbling in his blank notebook whilst staring at the stained ceiling, Pep Guardiola has all planned it carefully. Tonight’s Champions League program: Manchester CityReal Madrid.

Pep’s eternal enemy had already met his Manchester City under Zidane’s tenure, and had dramatically been booted out of the competition in the eighth of finals by Pep’s men: the encounter was still fresh in Madrid’s mind. Where Pep could taunt Zidane’s defensive organization, he had to face Carlo Ancelotti, whom he already knew well from his last Madrid tenure: The chaos invoked by the Italian had turned in his favor again, despite Pep’s carefully planned gameplan.

Unlike previous Champions League editions, Pep Guardiola did not “overthink” – a regular complaint in the past years – his line-up. He did not field a player in an odd, new position. The táctico continued with a regular line-up, though hindered by several absences (J.Cancelo, K Walker). From the first minutes, the Citizens steamrolled past Madrid’s midfield and defence: Every transition seemed a matter of life and death, worsened by Casemiro’s absence, injured.

“After the game, I often look at my stats. I love interceptions – they are my goals, my assists”

Without Casemiro, Kroos struggled to halt City’s threats in the midfield, placed deep. But at his age, the German could not run as much, anymore. His usual partner, Modrić, was placed on the wrong side of the pitch: He saw little of the ball, and Magic Modrić was barely seen. The younger of all three, Federico Valverde, barely made an impact as acres of spaces remained indefensible over the course of the third quarter of the game. Kevin de Bruyne and Gabriel Jesus took advantage as they scored in the 2nd and 11th minute respectively – Still, a 2-0 score felt light to many in comparison to the disaster Ancelotti’s team were in Manchester.

As if the Brazilian’s absence was not an issue of its own, Militao and Alaba began with individual mistakes – the main weakness of Ancelotti’s premise. The opener and other goals saw either of the two centre-backs getting pulled off their defensive positions with a third or fourth City player appearing behind them.

Manchester City often looked to overload the left with the likes of Kevin de Bruyne, Phil Foden and Oleksandr Zinchenko, the latter often left alone in advance positions as Federico Valverde often pulled back to aid the backline. The situation was alarming: Real Madrid gave space to the best space-occupiers in the world, and City knew it: Ancelotti’s risk-it-all tactics had worked in La Liga, but less so in the Champions League: It was not the first time Madrileños had seen their team devoured in defensive transitions, and this game was the worst possible – without Casemiro, it all felt worse, heavier and breathing became hard.

This is one possible portrait of yesterday’s game. Pep Guardiola has done his job, he transmitted the idea to his players, they executed it well and a big advantage before visiting the Bernabeu was assured by the Citizens. But that portrait is not an accurate depiction of the reality that turned into madness, precisely what Manchester City looked to avoid – but what Ancelotti and Real Madrid were looking for.

Soon, a first criminal appeared on everyone’s lips, and Twitter was ready to spit its anger out. The wanted suspect was Riyad Mahrez, Pep’s winger, who had missed about an innumerable number of chances. Missing chances will always be regretted, but against Real Madrid, it is downright suicide, arguably a pledge to imminent death: Mahrez knew it, Pep Guardiola knew it, Carlo Ancelotti knew it, Benzema knew it, everyone knew it.

‘Ramadan Benzema’ was back to haunt the opponent’s goal. He had done it against Paris Saint-Germain and he was ready to do it against Manchester City. Karim Benzema, against the course of play, amid City’s domination, broke through and scored in the thirty-third minute. It was still 1-2 from Real Madrid’s perspective – but the damage had already been done. It was too late to return to organisation: The stage was set for what would become hell for over-thinkers. 

Phil Foden seemed to have City’s game gone and done as he scored the third – the scoreboard displayed the 3-1 score at the Etihad. As he barely finished celebrating, Real Madrid’s other demon had brought one back for ‘Los Blancos’ – his name was Vinicius Jr, a name that has remained on everyone’s lips throughout the season. The 21 year-old winger remained stuck on City’s defence in the first half – always in a 1v2 situation as he had to face two defenders – the Brazilian remained silent in the first half – until he could fool Fernandinho, and the goal only contributed to his new but regular aura.

Bernardo Silva, major connector and controller of Pep’s team – also happened to score at the 75th to make it 4-2 – thanks to individual mistakes from the opponent. (Un)fortunately, Benzema earned himself a penalty a few minutes later to get one back. With a one goal difference and a game to play in the Bernabeu, no bet expert would assume it is done for Madrid – for it takes one momentum for Ancelotti’s men to break through and instill doubts for the remainder of the game – as Paris Saint-Germain tasted to a bitter defeat in a similar situation.

Tags Carlo Ancelotti Champions League La Liga Manchester City Pep Guardiola Real Madrid
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