Throughout his five-and-a-half years at Manchester City, Pep Guardiola has often come up towards what critics hope will show his kryptonite.
In his early days, Jose Mourinho’s arrival at Old Trafford was billed as the Catalan’s worst nightmare.
However, at Manchester United, the outspoken Portuguese by no means managed to upset Guardiola in the similar means he had throughout their time on reverse sides of the Clasico divide.
Indeed, Mourinho felt the supposed rivalry was so one-sided that he truly claimed that ending second to Guardiola’s City was one among his best teaching achievements.
However, a real risk started to emerge at Anfield, with Guardioa admitting that Liverpool’s formidable entrance three of Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino truly scared him.
Nonetheless, after some bitterly disappointing defeats to the Reds, Guardiola developed a system that has enabled to him get the higher of latest conferences with the Merseysiders.
City have misplaced simply one among their final eight video games towards Liverpool and, final 12 months, even claimed a primary victory at Anfield for 18 years.
The Reds stay a real risk to City’s supremacy however, final season, it appeared as in the event that they have been set to be overtaken by Chelsea, after Thomas Tuchel turned up at Stamford Bridge and promptly wrecked City’s hope of an historic quadruple earlier than then dashing their hopes of a first-ever Champions League success.
City have been comfortably the greatest group in England when Tuchel changed Frank Lampard as the Blues’ boss, however the German’s January arrival in west London altered the whole course of the 2021-22 marketing campaign.
Chelsea recorded three victories in three matches towards City – one in the FA Cup semi-final, one at the Etihad Stadium in the Premier League and one in the Champions League.
It appeared that Tuchel actually knew the secret of tips on how to beat Guardiola’s seemingly unstoppable aspect.
That was till City headed to top-of-the-table Chelsea for a league assembly in late-September, dominated the match and left with a victory way more complete than the 1-0 scoreline counsel.
Four months on, and with the Blues now 10 factors behind the runaway leaders, Tuchel now desperately wants a victory at the Etihad on Saturday afternoon to resurrect his group’s fading title probabilities.
It’s all a far cry from the begin of the season when many had Chelsea has favourites due to Tuchel’s outstanding run of success towards Guardiola.
It wasn’t at all times that means, although. In Germany, Tuchel didn’t win any of their 5 encounters – though it have to be acknowledged that he was in command of Mainz for 2 of these conferences with Guardiola’s Bayern Munich.
Tuchel has even cited Guardiola as an affect on his teaching model and it is clear that whereas finding out the former Barcelona boss that he was additionally making an attempt to work out methods to beat him.
With each males now in possession of extremely sturdy squads, their matches have grow to be fascinating tactical battles as they attempt to second-guess one another’s strikes like grandmasters of chess.
Their first assembly in England got here in an FA Cup semi-final in April when Hakim Ziyech scored the solely purpose of the sport.
City rested a number of key gamers as they chased an unprecedented quadruple however have been strangled by Chelsea’s defensive gameplan.
Guardiola opted for a double pivot in the centre of midfield with Rodri and Fernandinho however City lacked creativity, having simply three photographs on course, whereas Tuchel was pleased to sit down again and frustrate.
“Against a group that defends with eight gamers in the last third, it’s not simple,” Guardiola mentioned relatively damningly of his opponents.
In a rematch at the Etihad lower than a month later, either side have been much-changed however City have been way more inventive this time, as Guardiola experimented with a back-three in order that he might successfully use full-backs Benjamin Mendy and Joao Cancelo as wingers.
Raheem Sterling put the hosts forward however Sergio Aguero embarrassingly fluffed a Panenka penalty earlier than Chelsea stormed again in the second half, exposing City’s excessive full-backs by repeatedly catching them on the break.
Marcos Alonso’s injury-time winner ensured Guardiola must wait somewhat longer for the title however, extra importantly, victory additionally gave the Blues an infinite increase forward of their subsequent assembly in the Champions League last.
“We will arrive [in Porto] with the information we’re able to beating City,” Tuchel mentioned after the win in Manchester.
By the time of that last, the narrative had modified. There was a mounting suspicion that Tuchel had bought into his reverse quantity’s head, which was definitely one possibile rationalization for Guardiola’s unusual group choice.
He surprisingly reverted to his tried-and-trusted 4-3-3 system however for less than the second time in 60 video games he began with out both Rodri and Fernandinho as a holding midfielder.
The web outcome was that Ngolo Kane dominated midfield, whereas City have been ineffective and barely threatened. Tuchel’s Chelsea absolutely deserved to raise the trophy.
“They managed all departments, which is why it was troublesome in the last of the Champions League towards an distinctive group,” Guardiola admitted months later.
By changing into simply the second supervisor to beat Guardiola in three successive matches, after former Manchester United supervisor Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, there appeared to be extra driving on City’s go to to Stamford Bridge earlier this season than merely three factors.
While City had missed out on a striker in the summer time, Chelsea had strengthened their group with Romelu Lukaku and, for one among the few instances throughout his reign, Guardiola began a Premier League season as an underdog.
After 90 minutes at Stamford Bridge in September, although, City have been favourites for the title once more, after a managed efficiency by which Bernardo Silva, Kevin De Bruyne and Rodri ran the center of the park, pinning the house aspect again in their very own half, leaving Chelsea’s forwards remoted.
Chelsea didn’t register a single shot on course, the risk from raiding full-backs Reece James and Alonso was nullified, and Tuchel’s tactical tweaks – switching to a entrance three and shuffling his midfield with substitutions – didn’t have any influence.
“We performed with the mentality that we had one thing to lose however there was nothing to lose right here,” Tuchel mentioned after the match.
But the German and his aspect did lose their sense of invincibility and, with a title problem now ebbing away, it is Chelsea that now go into Saturday’s essential conflict at the Etihad with hope greater than expectation.