Pep Guardiola NEEDED to reach the Champions League final – he hasn’t done so in 10 years! – but now the Man City boss is on the brink of greatness after his stunning side overcome knockout hoodoo… giving him the chance of a third European triumph
- Pep Guardiola had not reached a Champions League final in 10 years
- He was knocked-out three consecutive times in the semis with Bayern Munich
- Pep’s time at Manchester City has been shrouded by failure in Europe too
- But Guardiola’s approach and tactics have been spot on so far this season
- His all-conquering side will take their place in the biggest game in club football
The sheer relief, as much as the sheer joy, was palpable in the aftermath.
Pep Guardiola had – finally – guided Manchester City to the biggest game in club football as his irresistible side saw off the challenge of PSG at the Etihad on Tuesday night.
‘I’m incredibly proud,’ the City boss said. ‘Everyone has made their contribution. There is something in the stars that is involved…
Man City finally got over their knockout hoodoo and reached the Champions League final
It marks the first time Pep Guardiola has reached the Champions League final in 10 years
Barcelona – SFs (2012)
Bayern Munich – SFs (2014, 2015, 2016)
Man City – R16 (2017), QFs (2018, 2019, 2020)
‘Reaching the final helps with the bigger picture of the last four years, to understand what we’ve done.
‘That’s unfair but it is what it is.’
Unfair it may be, but there’s no doubt that Guardiola’s reputation as one of the greatest coaches ever was somewhat shrouded by his decade-long failures in Europe, particularly given the resources at his disposal.
Troubles made all the more remarkable given his record in the Champions League during his first three years in management: won, semi-finals, won again.
Those final victories in particular, first in Rome then in Wembley, against Manchester United were so decisive and dominating that it looked as though nobody could stop Pep’s tiki-taka brand of football.
In the years that have followed though, Guardiola’s side have mysteriously been unable to overcome the hump of Champions League knockout football.
In 2012, it was a Lionel Messi missed penalty and that Fernando Torres goal which saw his Barcelona team miss out to Chelsea in the semis, with Guardiola calling it a day in Catalonia not long after.
After a year out, it was off to Bayern Munich, where a string of domestic successes were soured – three times in a row – by stinging heartache in the Champions League semi-finals.
First, Real Madrid in 2014. A 1-0 deficit ahead of the home-leg in Munich, the reigning champions were arguably favourites with two-time winner Guardiola at the helm.
But a quick-fire Sergio Ramos double, followed by two more goals by Cristiano Ronaldo, made it a night to forget for the Spanish coach, on arguably the most humiliating day of his career to-date.
Sergio Ramos and Cristiano Ronaldo scored twice each to knock out Pep’s Bayern in 2014
A year later, it was former club Barca – and chief protagonist Messi – who stopped Guardiola in his tracks.
This was when the Argentine lit up the Camp Nou, scoring twice including a memorable solo effort when he turned Jerome Boateng inside-out before dinking over Manuel Neuer.
It was a Barca team littered with stars – and that famous MSN attacking trio of Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar.
Perhaps, then, Pep could be excused. He lost out to two Spanish giants, arguably at the height of their powers.
The 2016 exit against Atletico Madrid though was the start of five years of failures in the Champions League which, tie-for-tie, would have been a shock to the system for Guardiola.
Despite constant success domestically, Guardiola struggled for success with Bayern in Europe
Simeone got the better of him that year, on away goals. One, like many, that got away.
It’s been the biggest bugbear of his time in Manchester. In 2017, his underdeveloped side were second-best against Monaco in the round-of-16 – a tie noteworthy for Kylian Mbappe’s arrival on the biggest stage.
It was a shock though. Semi-finalists the year before, City had failed to banish the European curse. This was not the start Guardiola had anticipated.
If anything, the years since have been even tougher to stomach, given City’s indomitable record in the Premier League.
In 2018, they were blown away by counter-attacking football at its finest from Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool in the quarters.
Liverpool and Mo Salah got the better of Guardiola’s City in 2018 at the quarter-final stage
Documented in the All or Nothing documentary, Guardiola admitted he feared the Reds, and their front three of Mo Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino.
And as it turned out, his City side couldn’t cope with them, in the first-leg nor the second-leg.
A year later, Tottenham were the English opposition in the last eight. A strange first-leg team selection, as well as 10 bizarre opening minutes of the second-leg, saw the tie slip away from Pep’s team.
But even then, they’d looked to have clawed it back with Raheem Sterling’s winner in stoppage-time, only for VAR – the freshest of concepts back then – to rule it out for a marginal offside in the build-up.
Guardiola sunk to his knees – would his time on the grandest of stages ever come again?
Mauricio Pochettino celebrates with his Spurs squad in 2019 after shocking City at the Etihad
Guardiola looked dumbfounded at full-time two years ago, as success in Europe slipped by
Maybe 2019-20 and an unusual last-eight, one-legged competition in Lisbon? Nope, not then either.
A shock loss to Lyon, again down to a combination of bad luck and glaring openings squandered – Sterling’s open goal springs to mind – saw Guardiola crash out of the quarter-final stage for the third consecutive year.
Finally though, City’s time has come.
They’ve not had it easy either, with the German duo of Gladbach and Dortmund making for tricky encounters in the knockout-stages.
Guardiola’s side were devastated after being knocked-out by Lyon in last season’s last-eight
Yet both were brushed aside maturely. It all came together most of all though against PSG.
He got his team selection bang on the money, selecting the most in-form players in a squad of unparalleled talent.
On Tuesday, every City player was a star. Anything similar on May 29 in Istanbul and City will be European champions.
But only then will Guardiola – and a potential third European crown – enter the pantheon of greatness.
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