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Pep Guardiola's Greatest Champions League Blunders

By Dylan O'Connell Updated
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Manchester City are one game away from the Champions League final, and all eyes will be on how Pep Guardiola sets up for tonight’s semi-final second leg against Real Madrid at the Ethiad.

The Catalan will be facing his great nemesis, Carlos Ancelotti, who famously beat the coach twice at this stage of the competition in 2014 and 2022.

In between those losses is a string of tactical mishaps by Guardiola, each one worse than the last.

He insists that won’t be the case on Wednesday night, and he won’t deviate from the norm against the 14 time European champions.

"I cannot tell you here [my tactics]. It's nothing special, I'm not overthinking [Wednesday], don't worry guys. Nothing differently that we have done in the past," he said.

With all of this in mind, it’s worth looking back at some of the biggest tactical blunders by Guardiola over the last nine seasons.

 

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2014

 

 

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Bayern Munich were the team to beat in Europe that season, and they were hurtling towards an unprecedented double treble. Then they lost 1-0 to Real Madrid at the Santiago Bernabéu and needed to score in the return leg at the Allianz Arena.

Guardiola decided to play a 3-4-3 at home but changed his mind and went for a 4-2-3-1. The manager scrapped this at the last minute and went for a 4-2-4 that was deigned to attack.

He even told the players before the game: “Lads, this is not about going out and having a good time. You are going out there to do some damage. Go for the jugular. You are German, so be German and attack."

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Bayern lost 4-0 on the night and an emotional Guardiola made his feelings known about his self-described tactical failings.

"I got it wrong, man. I got it totally wrong. It's a monumental f*** up. A total mess. The biggest f*** up of my life as a coach," he said.

 

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2015

 

 

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Guardiola went home in 2015 to face a Barcelona team featuring Messi, Suarez, and Neymar. He was without Franck Ribery, Arjen Robben and David Alaba for the first leg, and everyone expected the coach to set up in a 4-3-3 formation.

They actually started the game man marking Barcelona, and pundits were shocked.

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“Pep Guardiola has gone and shocked us all,” said Gary Neville said at the time. “Incredibly he’s set up Rafinha in the left centre-back role - I imagined he’d play as a right back.”

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https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AXESYFUr7TI

This ended up giving Barcelona space, and they ran riot in the final third. The only thing that saved Bayern in the first half was good goalkeeping by Neuer.

Guardiola reacted after just 20 minutes by swapping to a back four, something that worked until Barcelona scored three times in the final 13 minutes.

 

 

2019

This is all about the first leg, a night that saw City go down 1-0 at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in London. Fabian Delph was played at right back, Kevin De Bruyne was dropped, and İlkay Gündoğan started as a defensive midfielder.

City lost 1-0 and everyone thought they’d overturn that deficit in the return leg at the Ethiad. What played out was one of the most chaotic games in the history of European football, with an early goal from Son Heung-min blowing the tie wide open after Raheem Sterling made it 1-1 on aggregate.

Guardiola thought his team did enough to go progress when Sergio Agüero played Raheem Sterling through to score in injury time. This would have made it 5-3 on aggregate, but the striker was offside in the build-up and the goal was ruled out by VAR.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=insYFfPrrFo

2020

 

 

Man City seemed to finally crack the European equation when they dumped Real Madrid out of the competition in the round of 16. Their reward was a tie with Lyon, and this was to be staged as a once off game due to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on European football.

Guardiola went with a back three on the night and Lyon took advantage of the high line by having their strikers chase balls in behind. This paid off for the Ligue 1 side and they won 3-1, and progressed to the semi-finals to face eventual winners Bayern Munich.

 

2021

This was it. Manchester City had finally reached the final, and Premier League rivals Chelsea were standing in their way of immortality. Everything was set up for a sky blue victory but Kai Havertz spoiled the party by scoring the only goal of the game.

This isn’t about the midfielder’s performance, but the absence of one in the Manchester City team.

The starting XI didn’t feature Rodri or Fernandinho. Instead, Ilkay Gundogan was named as a holding midfielder.

It was through the centre that the ball went from the boot of Mason Mount to Havertz and he beat Ederson.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JEPYvfB_Nrw

This was just a snapshot of a disjoined performance from a team that looked like they were learning to play in a new system in the biggest game of their lives.

It ended as another Champions League tactical error by the coach, who face even worse heartbreak the following year.

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