Pep Guardiola is yet to decide upon the Manchester City starting XI to face Chelsea in Saturday’s Champions League final.
Guardiola has rotated his side frequently this season, with City’s ample squad depth a factor in them adding Premier League and EFL Cup glory to their impressive haul under the Catalan tactician.
However, their progress through the knockout stages of the Champions League saw Guardiola deploy a relatively settled line-up, usually opting for a striker-less 4-3-3 formation.
Any tweaks, such as Oleksandr Zinchenko and Fernandinho being preferred to Joao Cancelo and Rodri at left-back and holding midfielder respectively for the second leg of the semi-final triumph over Paris Saint-Germain, were largely personnel based – tactical changes more of the tweaking variety, as opposed to the more eyebrow-raising alterations that have accompanied City’s European exits over recent years.
“They are ready,” Guardiola said of his squad on Monday. “I know how good they are, all of them.
“I’m not going to change [plans] for one or two training sessions. They are going to convince me.
“I know most of them for many, many years. So, no – I have an idea but the starting XI is not done, not yet.”
Guardiola’s effective use of false nines has left his conventional attackers on the outside looking in when it has come to big games over recent months, even if Ferran Torres’ hat-trick at Newcastle United and Sergio Aguero’s brilliant brace on his Premier League farewell against Everton may have cooked up some food for thought.
However, midfielder Ilkay Gundogan believes the most significant changes have come at the other end of the field.
A defence bolstered by Ruben Dias kept seven consecutive clean sheets from their second group game at Marseille up to and including the conclusion of the last-16 tie with Borussia Monchengladbach.
7 – Manchester City are only the third team in UEFA Champions League history to keep seven consecutive clean sheets, after AC Milan (seven ending in April 2005) and Arsenal (10 ending in April 2006). Blockade. pic.twitter.com/nKOki31pcv
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) March 16, 2021
Borussia Dortmund and PSG – Kylian Mbappe, Neymar, Erling Haaland and the rest – were then effectively shackled, marking a contrast to the tendency to concede goals in bursts that have previously thwarted City’s attempts to reach a maiden final in Europe’s top competition.
“This year I feel a couple of crucial things changed for us compared to other years,” Gundogan said. “As an example, against Monaco a few years ago we conceded three goals at home, when we played Tottenham we conceded three goals at home, when we played Lyon we conceded three goals.
“This year it seems to me we are so stable, conceding fewer goals. That just helps us to win even more. This is so important in the big games in the knockout stages, being able to defend well, not to concede is obviously a bit advantage.
“Same as well for Chelsea, to be honest, they also seem to be very stable at the back. Maybe, on Saturday, it is going to be about who is able to deal better with a team that will defend on a very high level.”
Chelsea are in their third Champions League final, having lost on penalties to Manchester United in 2008 before beating Bayern Munich in the same fashion four years later.
Guardiola was a player when Barcelona won their first European Cup title, having twice suffered disappointments in the final, while the team he went on to coach to two further successes had built up further top-level pedigree in the interim period.
By contrast, City’s only previous continental success came in the now defunct European Cup Winners’ Cup in 1970.
“Sometimes clubs need more finals to win the first one, in other clubs, it’s just one shot to be the champion. Hopefully that will be the case,” Guardiola added.
“In this period, we won back-to-back [Premier League titles] for the first time, we broke a lot of records for the first time, arrive in the [Champions League] semi-finals for the second time, arrive in the final for the first time.
“As a club, as an organisation we are not old in this case. But in terms of how excited and delighted we are, nobody can beat us on that.”
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