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Guardiola vs Tuchel: How the Man City boss reasserted his supremacy over Chelsea rival

19:01 GMT+4 14/01/2022
Pep Guardiola Thomas Tuchel Man City Chelsea GFX
The German ruined the Catalan's hopes of a quadruple last season but the ex-Barcelona boss has regained the upper hand ahead of their latest meeting

Throughout his five-and-a-half years at Manchester City, Pep Guardiola has regularly come up against what critics hope will prove 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 never managed to upset Guardiola in the same way he had during their time on opposite sides of the Clasico divide.

Indeed, Mourinho felt the supposed rivalry was so one-sided that he actually claimed that finishing second to Guardiola's City was one of his greatest coaching achievements.

However, a true threat began to emerge at Anfield, with Guardioa admitting that Liverpool's formidable front three of Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino actually scared him.

Nonetheless, after some bitterly disappointing defeats to the Reds, Guardiola developed a system that has enabled to him get the better of recent meetings with the Merseysiders.

City have lost just one of their last eight games against Liverpool and, last year, even claimed a first victory at Anfield for 18 years.

The Reds remain a genuine threat to City's supremacy but, last season, it seemed as if they were set to be overtaken by Chelsea, after Thomas Tuchel turned up at Stamford Bridge and promptly wrecked City's hope of an historic quadruple before then dashing their hopes of a first-ever Champions League success.

City were comfortably the best team in England when Tuchel replaced Frank Lampard as the Blues' boss, but the German's January arrival in west London altered the entire course of the 2021-22 campaign.

Chelsea recorded three victories in three matches against City – one in the FA Cup semi-final, one at the Etihad Stadium in the Premier League and one in the Champions League.

It seemed that Tuchel really knew the secret of how to beat Guardiola’s seemingly unstoppable side.

That was until City headed to top-of-the-table Chelsea for a league meeting in late-September, dominated the match and left with a victory far more comprehensive than the 1-0 scoreline suggest.

Four months on, and with the Blues now 10 points behind the runaway leaders, Tuchel now desperately needs a victory at the Etihad on Saturday afternoon to resurrect his team's fading title chances.

It's all a far cry from the start of the season when many had Chelsea has favourites because of Tuchel's remarkable run of success against Guardiola.

It wasn’t always that way, though. In Germany, Tuchel failed to win any of their five encounters – although it must be acknowledged that he was in charge of Mainz for two of those meetings with Guardiola's Bayern Munich.

Tuchel has even cited Guardiola as an influence on his coaching style and it's clear that while studying the former Barcelona boss that he was also trying to work out ways to beat him.

With both men now in possession of incredibly strong squads, their matches have become fascinating tactical battles as they try to second-guess each other’s moves like grandmasters of chess.

Their first meeting in England came in an FA Cup semi-final in April when Hakim Ziyech scored the only goal of the game.

City rested several key players as they chased an unprecedented quadruple but were strangled by Chelsea’s defensive gameplan.

Guardiola opted for a double pivot in the centre of midfield with Rodri and Fernandinho but City lacked creativity, having just three shots on target, while Tuchel was happy to sit back and frustrate.

“Against a team that defends with eight players in the final third, it is not easy,” Guardiola said rather damningly of his opponents.

In a rematch at the Etihad less than a month later, both sides were much-changed but City were far more creative this time, as Guardiola experimented with a back-three so that he could effectively use full-backs Benjamin Mendy and Joao Cancelo as wingers.

Raheem Sterling put the hosts ahead but Sergio Aguero embarrassingly fluffed a Panenka penalty before Chelsea stormed back in the second half, exposing City’s high full-backs by repeatedly catching them on the break.

Marcos Alonso’s injury-time winner ensured Guardiola would have to wait a little longer for the title but, more importantly, victory also gave the Blues an enormous boost ahead of their next meeting in the Champions League final.

“We will arrive [in Porto] with the knowledge we are capable of beating City,” Tuchel said after the win in Manchester.

By the time of that final, the narrative had changed. There was a mounting suspicion that Tuchel had got into his opposite number’s head, which was certainly one possibile explanation for Guardiola's strange team selection.

He surprisingly reverted to his tried-and-trusted 4-3-3 system but for only the second time in 60 games he started without either Rodri and Fernandinho as a holding midfielder.

The net result was that Ngolo Kane dominated midfield, while City were ineffective and barely threatened. Tuchel's Chelsea fully deserved to lift the trophy.

“They controlled all departments, which is why it was difficult in the final of the Champions League against an exceptional team,” Guardiola admitted months later.

By becoming just the second manager to beat Guardiola in three successive matches, after former Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, there seemed to be more riding on City’s visit to Stamford Bridge earlier this season than merely three points.

While City had missed out on a striker in the summer, Chelsea had strengthened their team with Romelu Lukaku and, for one of the few times during his reign, Guardiola started a Premier League season as an underdog.

After 90 minutes at Stamford Bridge in September, though, City were favourites for the title again, after a controlled performance in which Bernardo Silva, Kevin De Bruyne and Rodri ran the middle of the park, pinning the home side back in their own half, leaving Chelsea’s forwards isolated.

Chelsea failed to register a single shot on target, the threat from raiding full-backs Reece James and Alonso was nullified, and Tuchel's tactical tweaks – switching to a front three and shuffling his midfield with substitutions – failed to have any impact.

“We played with the mentality that we had something to lose but there was nothing to lose here,” Tuchel said after the match.

But the German and his side did lose their sense of invincibility and, with a title challenge now ebbing away, it's Chelsea that now go into Saturday's crucial clash at the Etihad with hope more than expectation.