Pep Guardiola made a familiar Man City mistake in Champions League final

It always felt like it was too simple to say that Manchester City’s starting XI for the Champions League against Chelsea was going to be Pep Guardiola’s easiest selection decision of his five years in charge.

The Blues had struck upon a winning formula in four games against Borussia Dortmund and Paris Saint-Germain, but when it looks too obvious that’s usually a time for Guardiola to worry.

Whether the Catalan felt his team was too easy to predict for Thomas Tuchel or whether he really felt all-out attack was the best way to winning the trophy he still longs for we don’t know, but the decision to cast aside Rodri and Fernandinho is one that will come back to haunt Guardiola.

We can add Chelsea in Porto in 2021 to Lyon in 2020, Tottenham in 2019 and Liverpool in 2018. Times when Guardiola’s selections have left us confused and City beaten.

This was perhaps not quite on the scale of some of those quarter-final defeats in terms of the scale of the changes, but the outcome was even more heartbreaking and the reasoning was non-existent. This was a dreadful night for Guardiola.

Ilkay Gundogan has, of course, been a reliable defensive midfielder for City. The mind goes back to the heroics in that role in the final months of the 2018/19 title race with Liverpool.

But this season he’s had his best campaign in front of goal. This was a team so attacking that the top scorer was playing in holding midfield. After a season of making late bursts into the penalty area, reverting to a shield in front of the back four isn’t easy to do.

To put into context just how big a shift this was, City had played 60 games this season before arriving in Porto and in 59 of them one of Rodri or Fernandinho had started at the base of midfield. The only other time neither was involved was a routine 3-0 win over Olympiakos. But Olympiakos in Manchester in November is a very different proposition to Chelsea in Porto in May.

It can be too easy to say Guardiola overthinks these Champions League defeats but it’s also hard to argue against it on nights like this. He got it wrong.

The only goal of the game will be highlighted as how City’s defence had a disappointing night, but it stemmed from the absence of Rodri or Fernandinho in front of them. Far too often Mason Mount picked the ball up in space and could pick paces to cause problems for John Stones and Ruben Dias.

That happened for the goal. Stones was dragged to the halfway line, Dias was dragged across by Werner and Kai Havertz had a gaping hole to run into and score. It fit the pattern of the half. City lacked protection in front of the back four and struggled to build up without a natural holding midfielder.

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It looked like a team picked with Guardiola expecting Chelsea to sit deep and surrender the ball, but that didn’t happen. This was a tactical triumph for Tuchel and a nightmare for the City manager. Bringing in an out-of-form Raheem Sterling was brave but the winger couldn’t find his best game in Porto. It was always a big ask to do so.

Guardiola isn’t solely to blame for this defeat. Too many of his key players failed to perform. Phil Foden flickered but couldn’t turn the game City’s way. Bernardo Silva and Riyad Mahrez were poor and Kevin De Bruyne was disappointing until his night was ended early.

But much of the reaction will come back to the team selection. It set the tone for a bad night. If Guardiola was to have this game again we can be fairly certain that Rodri or Fernandinho would have started.

There’s little doubt City will be back on this stage. They have the players to achieve it and they have the manager to guide them there. Guardiola is obsessed with this trophy and he will be desperate to win it for City, but this is a night that could haunt him this summer.