There are several things on these shores that many people will swear by until their dying day: Fish and chips taste better in newspaper, tea cools you down on a summer’s day and the Premier League is the best league in the world.
The latter would explain why, other than among his own fans, Pep Guardiola is not magnanimously heralded. He came, he saw and he conquered, making this so-called best league look easy. But there remains a stick with which to beat him - this “fraud” may be able to win domestic honours, but can he come up with a team good enough to win the Champions League without Lionel Messi and a whole host of other superstars he inherited at Barcelona in it? Not so much.
It didn’t work out for Guardiola in Europe at Bayern Munich, as he fell at the semi-final stage in each of this three seasons in Germany. The fact he won pretty much everything else each season is often ignored.
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At City, it has been the same old story. Premier League 100-point hauls? No bother. But in Europe Guardiola remains without a non-Barcelona winners’ medal. Never one to give up, Guardiola may well have come up with his best creation yet this season – a dynamic duo nobody saw coming – one capable of breaking Guardiola's non-Messi hoodoo and being eventually seen as one of the Catalan’s greatest concoctions.
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Guardiola’s systems are difficult to categorise at the best of times, but this season, his innovative formations have become borderline bewildering. And Guardiola’s secret weapon to create this chaos is Joao Cancelo.
The artist formerly known as a full back now operates wherever Guardiola believes the pocket of space will be. There isn’t even a name for Cancelo’s role this season, but his effect on City’s system has been transformative.
The Portuguese started out as right-back at the Emirates on Sunday, but he was often the furthest man forward, and angry at his team-mates when they weren’t as high up the pitch as him. Bringing this element of the unknown is so effective, and has given City an extra edge.
For every livewire, however, you need a more assured, steady head. In Ilkay Gundogan, City have a man reborn, who, like Cancelo, has been moulded over time by Guardiola into the perfect player for his system.
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Gundogan’s best position is still unclear, but that is more testament to his versatility than anything else, and this ability to play in a variety of roles is what Guardiola looks for in a player. He is equally adept in arriving on the edge of the box to finish off another fine, flowing City move, as he is doing the dirty work alongside Fernandinho.
While he is unpredictable, there is more calmness to Gundogan than Cancelo, but they complement each other perfectly.
With Fernandinho’s position as rigid as can be, and Kevin De Bruyne’s role very much defined, the unpredictability, in different ways, of Cancelo and Gundogan this season has taken City to a new level in recent months, just in time for a continental assault.
The reality, when judging Guardiola, is that knockout football is no way to run the rule over the prowess of any manager. Sir Alex Ferguson, in 26 years at Manchester United, only won two European Cups – one on penalties and one with two goals in stoppage time.
City have come close at several junctures under Guardiola, having suffered VAR heartache against Tottenham and been shocked by Lyon in last season’s quarter final. The margins are so small at the top level of European competition, and that is what sent Guardiola back to the drawing board.
After all those hours in lockdown, racking his brains, what he has come up with could well be the difference between another near miss in Europe and that first Champions League crown in a decade.
Borussia Monchengladbach are the sort of team City may have come unstuck against in Europe in the past, but this City team seem different. With that rock solid defence, led by Ruben Dias, De Bruyne and an in-from Raheem Sterling they have the assets, at both ends of the pitch, to beat anyone on their day.
But in between, City have two unheralded, Indeterminable weapons to give them that element of the unknown, which in Europe, when coaches have less experience of coming up against this City juggernaut, can make all the difference.
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