Manchester City is a bright spot in the night of mediocrity that hangs over football. Guardiola’s team may not win the Champions League but it has reached a level of play that seems inaccessible for the rest. The associative possibilities that he exploited in the second leg of the round of 16 in Budapest unleashed unstoppable plays for Borussia Mönchengladbach, just a filling in the qualifying poster, a perfect representative of everything that obscures the game with a dark cloak. If City are in the quarterfinals with the favorite poster, Borussia returns to the Bundesliga to try to stop a spiral that brings them closer to relegation.
Since his coach, Marco Rose, announced that he had signed for Dortmund a month ago, violating unwritten rules on loyalty, conflict of interest and other behavior that corrupts competitions, players have stopped following him. They had six consecutive defeats in the Bundesliga – their worst streak since 1989 – when they faced the English team for the second time. What followed was a one-way exhibition match.
Guardiola had rehearsed with defense of three centrals against Southampton and Fulham in the last two days of the Premier. The experiments screeched again. He hinted that he was preparing a bolt in case he had to watch out for the 0-2 lead in the first leg. Fortunately for his players, he returned to 4-3-3, which in Guardiola is equivalent to starting a machine that only he is capable of mastering in all its magnitude. Another would have had equipment fractured in half, or the insides would have overlapped with the ends. The City flew.
Rodri read all the letters of the game several seconds in advance; Silva and De Bruyne traveled the entire field, from the top of the attack to the interiors through the wings, sowing solutions to each situation; Gundogan walked down the lane of the ten and finished nine; Mahrez stuck to the right line and Foden alternated the left end with the playmaker, pouring his drop of surprise into the whirlwind of men who never stepped on each other. Perfectly coordinated, they advanced without their Borussia peers ever being able to arrive in time to steal or pass.
Centrals and pivots sunk after chasing shadows of false nines in each maneuver, they freed a few meters in the front of the area when at 10 minutes Mahrez gave a free ball to De Bruyne. The Belgian let it roll from right to left and hooked it with his left foot. The ball hit the crossbar and went inside.
Five minutes had not elapsed when Borussia came to bite the decoy. The forwards went up to pressure Stones and the Englishman filtered the pass to Foden, who outlined himself and started towards the goal without Neuhaus or Zakaria, the pivots, being able to close it. Faced with the dislocation of the defense, Foden’s pass found the outside of Gundogan’s left foot, which was unmarked into the gap and defined with the right on Sommer’s exit.
No one partners better than this dazzling City, serene manager from 2-0 to the end of an overwhelmingly uneven tie.