Pep Guardiola's Champions League trauma lives on

19 Apr 2024

Man City executed their game plan flawlessly against Real Madrid but once again suffered the all-too-familiar heartbreak of being eliminated from Europe in a gut-wrenching manner.

Despite having won the Champions League three times, Pep Guardiola has endured numerous painful exits from the competition, with Real Madrid being a recurring source of disappointment.

Guardiola expressed confidence ahead of the match against Real Madrid, backed by his past success against them. However, after an exhausting 120 minutes in Manchester followed by a thrilling 90 in Madrid, it was his team who suffered defeat, witnessing Real Madrid's familiar celebrations.

Despite Guardiola's overall positive record against Madrid, having won 13 out of 25 matches as a coach, including six draws and six losses, the Champions League knockout ties have been evenly matched, with Madrid eliminating him three times, the same number of times Guardiola's teams have overcome them in Europe's premier tournament.

“I absolutely don’t have any regrets" said Guardiola, who thanked his players from the bottom of his heart for "doing everything offensively and defensively" against Madrid. But he must regret the fact that the Champions League, the competition that fascinates him so much, has been so cruel to him...

We created everything

Guardiola emphasized that his team's dominance was evident without needing to explicitly state it, as the match statistics clearly illustrated. City had 33 shots compared to Madrid's eight, with nine shots on target versus their opponent's three. Madrid blocked 12 shots from City, while City only managed to block one from Madrid. They maintained possession for 67 percent of the game and earned 18 corners compared to Madrid's one.

In comparison to last year's 4-0 win in the semi-final second leg, where the statistics were more balanced with a shot count of 16-7, Wednesday's 1-1 draw showcased a more pronounced display of City's control.

Guardiola expressed pride in his team's performance, noting their outstanding play, but lamented the inability to secure a win despite creating numerous opportunities. He attributed the challenge to Madrid's deep defensive strategy and their effectiveness in transition.

Madrid knew how to suffer

City typically dominate matches with relentless attacks that often wear down opponents, leading them to eventually succumb, as seen in their recent derby against Manchester United. However, Madrid presents a different challenge, as they are known for their resilience, particularly in the Champions League.

Carlo Ancelotti acknowledged the difficulty of the game against City, recognizing that they expected to face adversity and were prepared to endure it. Despite City's control of the game, Madrid maintained a strong defensive attitude and remained focused at the back. Ancelotti highlighted their ability to withstand City's pressure and maintain concentration throughout the match.

Most teams fall apart

Guardiola meticulously plans for various scenarios and studies the strengths and tactics of the opposition, but Madrid's ability to endure relentless pressure was something he couldn't anticipate.
Jude Bellingham, who experienced City's relentlessness firsthand with Borussia Dortmund, described defeating the reigning champions as "incredible." He acknowledged City's knack for snatching victory even when opponents feel they're close to a positive result. Bellingham emphasized the mental and physical effort required to withstand City's relentless pressure, highlighting the team's resilience and hard work in the face of formidable opposition.

Twelve semi-finals out of 14

Bellingham highlighted the contrasting approaches of Ancelotti and Guardiola, noting how Ancelotti encourages freedom and expression among the players, in contrast to City's structured style of play.

He emphasized Ancelotti's ability to foster a relaxed atmosphere that allows players to showcase their creativity and spontaneity on the pitch. This contrast in coaching styles reflects Madrid's improvisational approach, which has been instrumental in their consistent success, particularly in reaching the Champions League semi-finals.

While City secured their first Champions League title under Guardiola's management in Istanbul last year, it was seen as an anomaly compared to Madrid's long-standing dominance in the competition. Despite Guardiola's meticulous planning, City have reached the semi-finals only three times in eight years under his leadership.

So many tragedies

Despite winning the Champions League three times, Guardiola has endured significant setbacks in the competition. While he led Barcelona to victory in his debut season as a senior coach in 2008-09 and again in 2011, there have been numerous heartbreaking moments throughout his Champions League journey.

Guardiola's teams have consistently reached the knockout stages in all 15 of his Champions League appearances, but they have suffered several agonizing exits. His Barcelona side faced unfortunate circumstances, including elimination by Jose Mourinho's Inter in 2010 and a painful defeat to 10-man Chelsea in 2012, where Lionel Messi missed a crucial penalty.
During his tenure at Bayern Munich, Guardiola's teams were convincingly beaten by Real Madrid in 2014 and Barcelona in 2015. However, their exit to Atletico Madrid was particularly challenging, despite dominating with 33 shots on goal and Thomas Muller missing a penalty as they lost on away goals.

Guardiola's time at Manchester City also saw disappointing exits, including defeats to Monaco and Tottenham on away goals. The latter was marked by controversy when VAR disallowed Raheem Sterling's last-minute goal but allowed Fernando Llorente's contentious effort, which appeared to involve the use of his arm.

On par with Zidane

Guardiola's tactical decisions came under scrutiny in both the 2020 match against Lyon and the 2021 final against Chelsea. However, his team's defeat to Madrid in the 2022 semi-finals was considered unfortunate, especially with Rodrygo's quickfire goals.

After an 11-year wait, Guardiola finally lifted the Champions League trophy again by defeating Inter in Istanbul. Along the way, City outclassed Bayern Munich and Madrid. The following season seemed promising as they won every group-stage game and convincingly beat Copenhagen in the last 16.

However, fate pitted Guardiola against Madrid once more in the draw, and despite City's impressive run, Madrid's mastery in the competition led them to the semi-finals again. Ancelotti, with a chance to secure his fifth Champions League title, could potentially surpass Guardiola's tally. As it stands, Guardiola remains on three titles, the same number Zinedine Zidane achieved in just five attempts.

Madrid still the masters

Guardiola understands that his Champions League record will always face scrutiny, and he's attempted to contextualize it by referencing legends like Michael Jordan and Jack Nicklaus. He pointed out their high number of losses compared to wins, highlighting the inherent unpredictability of sports.

Despite his immense success in domestic competitions, winning 11 out of 14 national league titles across Spain, England, and Germany, Guardiola's three Champions League titles feel insufficient.

Players like Rodri acknowledge the challenge posed by teams like Real Madrid, who excel in the Champions League despite tough competition. Madrid's dominance in the competition, winning it three times between 2016 and 2018, rivals Guardiola's overall achievements. While Guardiola has dominated his sport akin to Nicklaus and Jordan, the Champions League remains Madrid's territory. This realization may prompt Guardiola to approach encounters with Madrid with a heightened sense of caution.

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