Pep Guardiola focus: Did the Manchester City boss overthink vs Real Madrid?

Pep Guardiola and overthinking in the Champions League, something that has, unfortunately for Manchester City, become synonymous with the Spaniard in recent years.

There are few that would argue that Pep Guardiola is not one of the greatest tacticians of the modern game and maybe even of all time. However, when it comes to knockout football in the Champions League, the person who normally bests Pep is himself.

101 have taken a deep dive into Pep Guardiola’s biggest Champions League blunders, and you can read more about that here.

For now, though, we are focusing on how Guardiola performed in Manchester City’s first semi-final leg vs Real Madrid.


The first thing we will examine is Manchester City’s starting eleven on the night.

One of the most obvious signs Guardiola has overthought a game comes in the team selection.

The Sky Blues generally operate with a 4-3-3 that sees one of Rodri or Fernandinho in the holding role. However, vs Chelsea in the 2021 Champions league final, Guardiola started without a single defensive midfielder. The season before that meanwhile, the City boss switched to a back-three to match up with Lyon (who they lost to), deploying Fernandinho as a centre-back on that occasion.

Vs Madrid, though, Guardiola had to make do without Joao Cancelo (suspension) and Kyle Walker (injury).

This led to the former midfielder having to use John Stones as City’s starting right-back on the day.

As a result, though it may look like an overthinking job from Pep, City’s defence vs Madrid was pretty standard given the circumstances as he started with Ederson, Zinchenko, Aymeric Laporte, Ruben Dias and Stones.

Midfield was also fairly standard with the favoured trio of Rodri, Kevin De Bruyne and Bennardo Silva in from the off.

Finally, Pep Guardiola opted for a front three of Phil Foden, Gabriel Jesus and Riyad Mahrez to start on Tuesday. Again, this was a pretty normal pick from Pep. Admittedly, there could have been a case for Sterling over one of Mahrez or Jesus. However, Jesus has just scored four goals in one game whilst Mahrez has an excellent record in the Champions League over the last two campaigns.

So, from the line-up at least, Pep Guardiola did not overthink vs Real.


Pep began the match in a 4-3-3 with Gabriel Jesus as the centre-forward, which though it seems obvious, was somewhat of a change as the Brazilian has played most of his football from the wing over the last two years.

However, barring playing Jesus through the middle, Pep made very few major tactical changes. And even Jesus being deployed up top worked out well.

When out of possession the South American and KDB formed a make-shift front-two, pressing high to disrupt Madrid’s attempts to play out from the back and find the likes of Modric and Kroos.

On the flanks, meanwhile, Foden and Mahrez stayed wide in and out of possession to stretch and press Madrid, which worked very well, especially in the first 45.

This left Bernardo Silva to drop deeper and sometimes form a midfield pivot with Rodri. This is nothing new though, as we have seen the Portuguese perform this role on a number of occasions recently. And, for the most part, it worked well, allowing Man City to bypass Madrid’s midfield either via quick passing or Silva bringing the ball from deep to start an attack.

Further back, meanwhile, Man City were set up as normal despite missing their two main full-backs.

John Stones (also Fernandinho when he replaced him) and Zinchenko looked largely comfortable moving into a midfield role to provide attacking support when needed, showcasing that, as long as Pep sticks to his normal tactics, the personnel is not the most important thing due to how well the full squad is coached.

Yes, Fernandinho did struggle to deal with the pace of Vinicius Junior, but as already mentioned, Cancelo and Walker were missing for the game and Stones asked to be brought off, leaving Pep with very few options at right-back.

He could have brought on Ake and played him out of position at right-back, but the Dutchman is not exactly known for his pace either, so it is easy to see why Pep went for the experience of Fernandinho who also provided an assist on the night.

And whilst some fans were likely not happy when Man City were only 2-1 up at half-time. That was down to the wastefulness of some City players and the sheer brilliance of Karim Benzema, rather than anything tactical from Pep.

It was a similar story at full-time. Man City probably should be taking, at the very least, a two-goal lead to the Bernabeu. But missed chances, Vinicius’ pace and a stupid decision from Laporte means that is not the case.

However, it is hard to argue that Pep Guardiola actually overthought his tactics on Tuesday.

Body language

Finally, we will take a look at Guardiola’s body language from the game.

And, whilst the City boss cut an animated figure on the sidelines for much of the 90 minutes, that is nothing new for Pep.

Amongst his most noticeable touchline outbursts vs Real came when he screamed at Mahrez for not crossing to Foden 26 minutes in, when he was booked minutes after Man City went 3-1 up, and after Laporte’s handball when the Spaniard was spotted sat on the stairs looking dejected.

As already mentioned, though, all of these actions are pretty standard for the passionate, intense, demanding manager. Even getting booked right after his team went 3-1 up is fairly normal behaviour. Pep is well known for continuing to push his side to the limit even if a game looks won and his side are dominating, with Tuesday no different.

Josh Barker

Josh Barker

Middlesbrough fan from the North East of England. @JoshBarker979 on Twitter.

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