I.n Manchester one should take a look at the pitch some time before the scheduled kick-off so as not to experience any nasty surprises. On Sunday, before the duel between Manchester United and Liverpool, angry fans were suddenly to be seen, who expressed their displeasure with the owners of the club and the plan to participate in a Super League. The game was then canceled. Before the game of city rivals Manchester City on Tuesday evening in the Champions League, there was no protest to be seen, but the view of the lawn was astonishing.
Before the start of the game, after a heavy shower, a thin blanket of snow had actually covered the fine green and turned the stadium into a winter landscape – on May 4th. But even this freak weather did not stop Manchester City. After the 2-0 victory in the second leg of the semi-final – there was already a 2-1 in the first game at Paris Saint-Germain – coach Pep Guardiola’s team is in the final of the Champions League for the first time in their club’s history. Riyad Mahrez scored the two goals in the 11th and 63rd minutes.
Guardiola was particularly relieved. At the beginning of his coaching career he had great success with FC Barcelona in the Champions League, winning the trophy twice. That was in 2009 and 2011. But during his stints at Bayern and Manchester, the Catalan failed again and again prematurely in Europe’s most important football club competition. That was not only his fault, but in some crucial games the tinkerer deviated from his previously successful tactics and experimented with strategies and line-up.
“My present for him”
That often didn’t go well. At the final tournament last season, for example, when only one game decided on progress in the knockout round from the quarter-finals, Guardiola overturned the plan in a duel with the blatant outsider Olympique Lyon and was eliminated. After that, the criticism of the coach was immense, for whom victories in the simple way did not seem to suffice. It always had to be something special. Against Paris he stuck to the tried and tested. Guardiola only surprised this time with the formation of Fernandinho for Rodri, who was so strong recently in defensive midfield. But it went well.
Guardiola justified the fact that the Brazilian played instead of the Spaniard with a joke before the game: “It’s his birthday today, that’s my present for him,” said the coach. Indeed, Fernandinho turned 36 on match day. But of course that wasn’t the reason for his line-up in the last game on the way to the final. Except for one bad pass that Paris could not take advantage of, Fernandinho showed a strong performance. He was even involved in a crucial scene. Ángel Di María lost his nerve in a scramble for a ball, kicked Fernandinho on the foot and saw the red card (69th minute). After that, the French were unable to catch up.
Finally back in the final after ten years of abstinence – that was all that counted for Guardiola. “The Champions League is a special competition. It’s the first final for the club. It’s something very special for us, ”he told Sky TV late at night in the catacombs. “We always just failed. It was often a matter of a few centimeters. This success was also due to what we have been doing over the past four years. We have won a lot of titles during this time. That’s why we deserve to make it to the final. “
In the final in Istanbul on May 29, either Chelsea or Real Madrid are waiting for their second game this Wednesday (9:00 p.m. in the FAZ live ticker for the Champions League, on Sky and DAZN). The first duel in Spain ended 1-1. Paris, meanwhile, missed the final, which the club reached last year and lost to FC Bayern. The end on Tuesday was also a little bit unlucky. Star striker Kylian Mbappé was sidelined with a calf injury. “That shouldn’t be an excuse,” said PSG coach Mauricio Pochettino, who, however, complained about a lack of “luck”.
You can see it that way, but you don’t have to. Paris, who had won 4-1 in the round of 16 at FC Barcelona and 3-2 in the quarter-finals in Munich, had good chances. A ludicrous decision for a hand penalty was revised on the advice of the video assistant. Then there was bad luck when a header from Marquinhos hit the crossbar (16th) or Di María’s shot just missed the almost empty goal after a mistake by City (19th) or Ander Herrera’s goal was also missed (36th). But all in all, the progress of Manchester was deserved after both games.
After winning the League Cup final over Tottenham, City now wants to win the championship in the Premier League. In addition, the front runner is still missing a win. That could be on Saturday (6.30 p.m. on Sky) in the game against Chelsea. “On Saturday we have one more game that we have to win to be champions. Then we’ll concentrate on the Champions League final, ”said goal scorer Mahrez. Most recently in the FA Cup semi-finals City was subject to the selection of Thomas Tuchel. And maybe there will be a spicy reunion in the season finale. In Istanbul. End of May. And then probably without snow.
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