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Manchester City vs Chelsea

Guardiola vs Tuchel: The beginning of a beautiful new rivalry

09:00 BST 08/05/2021
Guardiola tuchel
Manchester City face Chelsea in the Premier League less than three weeks before they go head-to-head in the Champions League final

Pep Guardiola had a warm welcome for Thomas Tuchel when the German was announced as the new Chelsea manager in January.

"He's a friend of mine," the Manchester City boss told reporters, "and I'm happy to see him."

Four months on, Guardiola may just have a different view of Tuchel's arrival at Stamford Bridge. 

The former Borussia Dortmund coach has already denied City a shot at an historic quadruple with an FA Cup semi-final win at Wembley.

Now, after an impressive victory over Real Madrid in midweek, Tuchel's transformed Chelsea team stand in the way of City realising their Champions League dream in Istanbul later this month.

On Saturday, the two sides will play a dress rehearsal in the Premier League, presenting Chelsea with the chance to delay City's title coronation and lay down another marker ahead of their end-of-season showdown on May 29.

However, Tuchel has more important, more immediate concerns. Chelsea currently sit fourth in the Premier League table, just three points above West Ham in fifth.

Defeat at the Etihad Stadium would be a blow to the Blues' hopes of guaranteeing Champions League football next season before they travel to Turkey. 

Of course, both managers are distancing themselves from any suggestion that this weekend's meeting in Manchester will have any impact on their European encounter.

But, privately, they will be looking for any sign of weakness, any potential tactical frailty that could be exposed on the biggest stage in club football.

Guardiola and Tuchel, of course, have a healthy relationship and mutual respect dating back to their time together in Germany.

There is simply not the same professional friction that exists between Guardiola and his most prominent recent rivals, Jurgen Klopp or Mauricio Pochettino, or the outright acrimony created by Guardiola's Clasico clashes with Jose Mourinho.

Guardiola and Tuchel have often privately discussed football and the pair had a fabled meeting in a Bavarian restaurant to discuss tactics using salt and pepper shakers as players. The story goes that the conversation was so intense that waiters were too afraid to interrupt their discussion.

Tuchel faced former Bayern boss Guardiola twice during his time in charge at Mainz, losing both games, and even after moving to Dortmund, the Krumbach native failed to win any of their three head-to-heads.

Indeed, Chelsea's win in the FA Cup semi-final was Tuchel's first triumph over a man he cites as one of his biggest influences in football. 

That 1-0 victory on April 17 perfectly illustrated just how far forward Tuchel had taken Chelsea since replacing Frank Lampard at the helm in January.

Indeed, barely three-and-a-half months earlier, Guardiola's side had torn the Blues to shreds in a league meeting at Stamford Bridge.

Despite preparations being disrupted by a Covid-19 outbreak that had shut down their training base and meant several players missed the clash in quarantine, City cantered to an emphatic 3-1 victory in West London and, just three weeks later, Lampard was sacked.

Of course, there is an argument that not too much significance should be attributed to Chelsea's cup success over City.

City had played in an emotional and tiring victory away to Borussia Dortmund in the quarter-finals of the Champions League, whereas Chelsea had hosted Porto at home 24 hours earlier.

The runaway league leaders also rested key players, making seven changes, with the FA Cup third on City's list of priorities. Tuchel, by contrast, chose a virtually full-strength line-up.

Saturday's match, then, should serve as a better indicator as to what to expect from both coaches in Istanbul.

Guardiola will go with the same philosophy which has taken his team to a 13-point lead in the Premier League, and the club's first-ever Champions League final.

So far this season, he has resisted the urge to overthink things in Europe, sticking with a controlled, possession-based game, a high defensive line and energetic midfielders interchanging as the false nine.

At Wembley, Chelsea were defensively resolute and, thus, able to nullify City's attacking threat, while at the same time proving remarkably dangerous on the break thanks to the pace of Timo Werner, Hakim Ziyech and Christian Pulisic.

It will not be easy for Guardiola to find a way to break down a team that has kept 18 clean sheets in Tuchel's 24-match reign, and conceded just twice in six knockout games. 

Both managers will make tactical tweaks to their sides as they try to second-guess their opponents to gain the slightest of advantages on the pitch. The Champions League final will undoubtedly influence their thinking.

Tuchel, of course, is looking to get his hands on the trophy for the first time, after going so close with PSG last season. Guardiola, meanwhile, is poised to join Bob Paisley, Carlo Ancelotti and Zinedine Zidane as the only managers to win the European Cup three times.

Before all that, though, there is a game to be played at the Etihad, a fascinating precursor to the main event. 

They may be friends, but both Guardiola and Tuchel will be going all out for victory on Saturday. A beautiful new rivalry is just beginning.