Pep Guardiola and the Champions League, it’s the most complicated storyline since True Detectives season two.
It’s the tournament that has brought out both the best (2009 & 2011’s conquests) and the worst (literally every other year) in football’s most notorious coach.
Pep’s suicidal tactics as Bayern Munich manager against Barcelona in 2015 are entrenched in the tournament’s folklore and the performance is one that’s still talked about today.
On that occasion, Pep quickly found out that his decision to deploy a three vs three man-marking system against Barca’s ‘MSN’, was a big mistake.
Poor old Jerome Boateng, Rafinha and Medhi Benatia were left hung out to dry in the 3-0 spanking at the Nou Camp, while Leo Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez filled their boots against the man who gave them so much.
For many, that game is the most-recent memory they have of Pep completely losing his mind in a CL knockout tie.
That is, until now.
In the pressure cooker of the Santiago Bernabeu against Real Madrid, has Pep finally have lost the plot?
While the pre-match talk was almost exclusively dominated by City’s starting XI, with Raheem Sterling, Sergio Aguero and Fernandinho the marquee names left to warm the bench, enraged Citizens took to Twitter to bash away at their keyboards, naive to the knowledge that Pep was about to drop a madness™.
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The formation and tactics deployed in the first-half against Real were something we’ve never seen before from City.
A far cry from the gung-ho approach we’ve become accustomed to, it was a surprisingly cautious and conservative performance that we witnessed from the away side in the Spanish capital.
City’s 4-1-4-1 system transformed numerous times throughout the first 45 minutes, and while it’s far from unusual to see shapes change in-game, Pep had tricks up his sleeves that nobody could have predicted.
Gabriel Jesus’ role is one that will need some explaining, with the Brazilian spending a large chunk of the opening stanza keeping tabs on Dani Carvajal and Isco as an auxiliary left-back.
While City’s sole striker spent the bulk of the first-half tracking back, Kevin De Bruyne and Bernardo Silva were deployed as duel false-9s and lead a minimalist press from the front.
Before you knew it, Jesus was quickly back in the Real penalty area and forced the best save of the half from Thibaut Courtois.
The role of the Brazilian has drawn comparisons to the duties that Sir Alex Ferguson often used to demand of Wayne Rooney for Man United during CL knockout matches away from Old Trafford.
Or, what is otherwise referred to as the ‘Dirk Kuyt role.’
With the score 0-0 at half-time, who are we to claim that Pep’s master plan isn’t actually working an absolute treat…