“We defended so well!”, Exclaimed Pep Guardiola, smiling, relaxed, relieved after beating PSG with a 4-1 aggregate in the tie that transported Manchester City to the first Champions League final in their history and the Spanish coach to a new stage in his creative life. Of the teams he formed in each of the 12 seasons he has led in the elite, this City is the one that has exhibited the most impervious defense: 0.33 goals against per game in the Champions League is a personal record. The most striking of the statistics of Guardiola’s last work.
The world’s most influential coach of this century, the man who transformed football by bringing a new dimension to midfield and attack, continues to amaze audiences. But this time it is not surprising for the ingenuity of the maneuvers of its players in the opposite field but for the administrative rigor with which they operate in front of their own goal. To the point that PSG, one of the most creative attacks in existence, failed to provoke a single stop by Ederson in the 90 minutes of the return leg played on Tuesday at the Etihad (2-0).
Forced to go back 1-2 in the first leg, Neymar and his teammates fired 14 times. Five out. Nine inside, which bounced off defense. John Stones and Rúben Dias, the central pair, blocked five, assisted by all their teammates, all 11 in their own field. “We defended together, helping each other,” celebrated the coach. “We knew how to suffer when we lost control of the ball.”
Guardiola reinvents himself, as if the metamorphosis helped him to push himself, to feel alive in a job that otherwise, at 50 years old, could be routine for him with so many trophies that he collects (30) since he began his career on the Barça bench . The 4-3-3 is the model that has elevated to the category of masterpiece. But, perhaps because it is tedious for him, he flattens it in big games. Since 2017 he has varied with three and double pivot defenses. All failed attempts coinciding with Champions League qualifiers. Up to now. The same plan to delay Gundogan with Fernandinho to cover, which sank City against Tottenham in 2019, served him this time to overcome the tie in Paris and Manchester. He did not need to control the ball or dominate the field for half the competition time to score two goals from set pieces and two against. He served him with 44% of possession on Tuesday. And with the defense. In this, precisely, the colossal investment effort of the City has stood out in the last four summer markets.
“Of course this club has invested a lot of money since Sheikh Mansour took over 10 years ago,” he said on Tuesday after the victory. But this is much more than money. Those who want to think otherwise, there they. A coherent strategy has been followed here that has allowed them to win five Premier titles in a decade. That means a lot”.
If there is coherence in Guardiola’s new project, it is in the stubborn idea of building a team that gravitates more around its center-backs and its wings. If Bayern and Barça dazzled with their attackers and their midfielders, this City is consolidated around the fort. Of the 20 most expensive defenders of all time, nine have been hired by City since 2016. Rúben Dias (68 million), Joao Cancelo (65), Aymeric Laporte (65), Benjamin Mendy (57), John Stones (55 ), Kyle Walker (52), Nathan Aké (45), Eliaquim Mangala (45) and Nicolás Otamendi (44) add 500 million euros in four seasons. The volume of money spent on concrete contrasts with the part dedicated to the midfield. Of the 20 most expensive midfielders ever, Guardiola’s City has three: De Bruyne (76 million) Rodri (62) and Bernardo Silva (50). Of the 20 most expensive attackers, only one plays light blue: Riyad Mahrez (68 million). Ederson, the goalkeeper, is the fourth most expensive goal ever (20 million).
The injection of capital translates into results. This season, Guardiola’s City is about to conquer its third Premier with the most impenetrable defense in Europe. Considering the goals conceded per game, City stands out as the best protected team in the Champions League with an average of 0.3 goals against. Just four goals suffered in 12 games. Something natural, being the rear that the fewest total shots conceded in the major European leagues: only 6.9 per game.