Pep Guardiola triumphs in the battle of tortured geniuses, as he finally finds Thomas Tuchel . is too smart
The life of a maestro is a torturous existence. Pep Guardiola and Thomas Tuchel are arguably two of football’s brightest minds, swapping ideas during their summits in Germany back in the day. Yet they also seem to be some of the most troubled at times.
Tuchel, with all the sartorial elegance of an ultra-marathon runner in a tracksuit with leggings and a baseball cap with a standard company logo, rarely seems happy at the best of times, spending much of a game throwing hands in the air, turning around to his couch and venting a volley of Germanic frustrations.
But here he reached a peak of annoyance, a spinning, frowning ball of annoyance. Here was the first heavyweight clash of the season between two of the three teams that are sure to compete for the title. Tuchel came into play in the force majeure. His personal clash with Guardiola since his arrival in England has been 3-0 in his favour, the latest being the Champions League final in Porto. As such, you would expect his team to collect a shot on target.
Pep Guardiola took the latest win in his tactical sparring with Chelsea boss Thomas Tuchel
Manchester City triumphed at Stamford Bridge in another tight tactical spectacle
Instead, he approached the game as a man who had enjoyed a string of victories in Monte Carlo and was now content with his winnings instead of twisting and going broke.
“We kind of played like we had something to lose,” Tuchel said. “There was nothing to lose. After [we conceded] the goal was a bit more energy, a good reaction and a lot of risk. But you felt like this is the kind of mindset that you need from the start that you take risk, accept risk. And that was not the case today. They underperformed us.’
Difficult to counter that. But much of the responsibility lay with the coach’s door, which he accepted, in all honesty.
These are arguably the best two teams in the world and as such the room for error is negligible.
It’s early in the season, Chelsea already had three points from City at the start and Tuchel seemed to adapt the mantra: ‘What we have, we hold on to.’ Mason Mount was injured, yet a midfield of Jorginho, N’Golo Kante and Mateo Kovacic is as solid as you can get in world football. Add to that a back three and wingbacks who normally play fullback, put on 3-5-2 and you’d feel sorry for the team being asked to split that up.
Tuchel spent the game restless and frustrated as he pushed his Chelsea team onto the pitch
Pep Guardiola had lost three games in a row to Tuchel and finally got the best of his rival
Even the combined talents of Kevin De Bruyne, Bernardo Silva, Jack Grealish and Phil Foden didn’t experience much joy at first. That they eventually got them was due to the determination of Bernardo and Gabriel Jesus. But it wasn’t a football festival. City dominated completely, but it wasn’t until the game opened after the opening goal that they looked for themselves. Chelsea, on the other hand, never really looked like Tuchel’s Chelsea.
Romelu Lukaku was powerless only up front, limited to a handful of touches in the first half. Timo Werner sometimes walked with the ball, but in a hurried, slightly manic manner. And his selection is now a clear indication that Chelsea want to use his pace during halftime. You feel that when they feel they can cut open one side, he’s on the couch.
“I don’t think it’s a question of structure,” Tuchel said. “It’s a matter of positions and intelligence in the opponent’s spaces. We win together and lose together and I will also ask myself: was it the right form?’
His honesty, his energy cramps on the bench were all about getting his side higher up the field. But the message he’d sent with the selection he’d made had been caution at first. Had he set up 3-4-3 and you had the feeling this might have been more of a game.
The visitors forced the pressure and won nine corners as Chelsea’s backline shuffled
Still, it’s hard to scold the reigning Champions League-winning coach. When the two last met, Guardiola was berated for lack of defensive sensibilities. In Porto, his team was exposed to the counterattack. Here they barely gave Chelsea the chance. But then, unlike in that final, they had Rodri patrolling midfield, Bernardo back at his best and Gabriel Jesus persevering in the press. How would he react to those who said he had worn it in Porto and here?
‘They are right!’ he turned, the glint of a smile forming in the corners of his lips, before describing Rodri as ‘exceptional’ and Bernardo as back to the best form he showed in 2019.
“No one can deny they were excellent,” Tuchel said. “Part of the achievement is to let the opponent underperform, that’s what City did today. They were stronger, sharper. We lacked faith and confidence to escape in the situations where it was possible to escape with every mistake we made, we lost more and more confidence.
Chelsea manager looks constantly irritated but defends his players after the game
“They made us defend deeply. They are the most intense team in the competition on the opposing half, yet they have only been played with ten and there are ways to escape the pressure. But not for us today. We were not at our highest level, so we can’t expect a result.’
Safety first does not fit the character of this Chelsea team. They didn’t look like themselves. As such, they conceded important early ground to City in what is sure to be a fascinating three-time title race. At the end of it all, the two maestros hugged, but neither smiled, though one of them looked like the pain had all been worth it.
City are back on track with the Blues and their line-up for an exciting league title race this season