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Crazed conductor Pep Guardiola sees Champions League dream disintegrate | Champions League
Oh, Pep. Why Pep? Why do it to yourself? On a tender, balmy, thrillingly boisterous nighttime within the suburbs of Porto, the defining tactical mind of the age despatched out the strongest squad in Europe to face a group that had misplaced three of its final 4 video games. And but once more, he blinked. Porto is a sleepy city, the one actual disturbance prior to now few days some mild English infighting. However, this was a case of a person very publicly mugging himself.
This Metropolis group has been irresistible for the final 5 months, has discovered a form, a system, a set of rhythms which have carried them although the sector without breaking stride. At which level, enter the black cloud. Good day doubt, my outdated buddy. I’ve been anticipating you.
Pep went full Pep right here. When the Metropolis group dropped 10 minutes earlier than 7 pm there was a tremor of electrical energy around this huge, thrilling open bowl with its flying concrete roof, its cinematic solar strips. Chelsea can be fielding seven defensive gamers to Metropolis’s 4. The beginning midfield three can be Phil Foden, Ilkay Gündogan, and Bernardo Silva.
On paper, there was just one actual change, with Raheem Sterling in and Fernandino or Rodri absent. However with that stroke Guardiola had eliminated a complete place, going right into a Champions League closing with no single defensive midfielder.
Guardiola didn’t simply take the handbrake off right here. He sheared it off with an angle-grinder, set about it with a mallet, and hurled it out of the passenger window.
Even stranger, he did this in opposition to a group robust sufficient to defeat Metropolis twice not too long ago. The deepest defensive midfielder was additionally Metropolis’s high goalscorer.
It appeared muddled, a Metropolis group that was all ragu, no linguine. What about issues like stability and ballast? What about security? What about taking part in by the principles? And nice, if we’re not taking part in by the principles, how about making an attempt it out a few times earlier than the largest sport of your post-Barca profession?
There have been 16,500 folks on the Estádio do Dragão however it felt like extra, such was the agreeable sensory shock at being there out in all that house and lightweight and noise. It was a sense of vagueness that appeared to transmit to Metropolis’s gamers.
The midfield appeared like a 3, then turned a one with two in the entrance for some time. It was fluid, it was free, it was a type of managed whirl, the type of rhythms that liberate gamers but additionally make big calls for of their in-game intelligence, the power to learn the stream.
The primary probability of the sport got here from an extended go down the center from the goalkeeper. Sterling actually ought to have managed the ball higher and had a shot. After which for some time Metropolis simply type of fell aside. Abruptly there have been areas, channels, rivulets opening up within the backline. 3 times Chelsea has been capable of carve a means by way of, let down on every event by Timo Werner’s reverse-Terminator impression, the person who can’t be referred to as off however repeatedly refuses to kill you. He actually ought to have scored twice and set the day decisively a technique.
All through all this Pep was upon his ft in full crazed modernist-conductor guise, strutting left to proper in skinny black match-day duds then out of the blue whirling and lunging, doing rapid-fire double-handed midge-swats, pointing at issues solely he might see: objects, planes, holes, prospects.
And as half-time approached Chelsea scored the objective they’d been nearly however not fairly scoring for the previous 42 minutes. It was startlingly simple, made by a single, easy go that reduces by way of the guts of this Metropolis formation like a scorching knife by way of butter made particularly, and to order, with none added Fernandinho.
Mason Mount, who had been busy and sensible and neat all sport, had a lot time, an excessive amount of time, the type of time that breaks these video games open. A type of slackness had developed, a gap in Metropolis’s shared power subject. Mount picked out Kai Havertz making a beautiful driving run by way of the Metropolis midfield.
The ball traveled 45 yards alongside the bottom uninterrupted, straight into that rangy, keen stride, the stride of a Victorian housemaster finishing a very rugged early morning cross-nation sprint. There was no flesh, no impediment, no components of this Metropolis group to create resistance. Havertz rounded Ederson and rolled the ball into an empty internet.
As an objective to concede it was a humiliation, proof of some fundamental malfunction in construction. But it surely drew no answering shift, no admission from Guardiola of an absence of stability in his beginning group. At half-time, the Metropolis gamers trudged off wanting bemused.
With an hour gone Fernandinho lastly made a look, striding out into that central gap and restoring order as Metropolis started belatedly to wind up their spring, to use these climate fronts of stress to the Chelsea objective. As the sport eased in direction of its end-point it already felt as if Metropolis had been requested to win it twice.