Pep Guardiola bites back as bullish City wind up for assault on three fronts

Pep Guardiola is facing a crucial 11-day period across three competitions

James DuckerTelegraph Media Group Limited

Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola has issued a playful take-down of criticism that he can “overthink” his tactics in Europe by promising to play 12 players against Atletico Madrid.

City host Atletico in the first leg of their Champions League quarter-final tonight, then welcome Liverpool to the Etihad Stadium on Sunday in a potential Premier League title-decider.

The return game against Atletico – Manchester United’s conquerors in the previous round – follows in Madrid three days later, before City and Liverpool again lock horns in the FA Cup semi-finals at Wembley.

It is a tantalising 11-day period that could go a long way towards defining City’s season – and their hopes of becoming only the second club in England to win a treble of league title, Champions League and FA Cup – but if Guardiola was feeling the pressure, he was not showing it.

Accusations of trying to be too clever have followed Guardiola in Europe for some time, including last May’s Champions League final defeat by Chelsea, when he started the game without either of his recognised defensive midfielders, Rodri and Fernandinho.

The season before, Guardiola’s decision to switch to a back three against a modest Lyon side backfired as City were knocked out at the quarter-final stage, and surprise personnel changes and system switches from a proven winning formula were blamed for the last-eight exits to Liverpool and Spurs in 2018 and 2019, respectively.

But an ebullient Guardiola took great enjoyment from mocking the narrative around his perceived compulsion to tinker in the Champions League when fans and critics have often questioned the desire to try to fix something that is not broken.

“In the Champions League, always I overthink, create new tactics and new ideas and tomorrow you will see one,” he joked.

“I overthink a lot. It’s absolutely (fair), that’s why I’ve had very good results in the Champions League. It would be boring, my job, if all the time I had to win the same way. Opponents have different ways to play. If people think I’ll approach it [the Liverpool game on Sunday] the same way as Atletico, I don’t think about that.

“The movements of Liverpool are completely different than Atletico Madrid, especially because every player is different, every player has a mother and father with different personalities. I have to adapt.

“That’s why I love to overthink with stupid tactics, and if I don’t win I look stupid. Tonight, I will take inspiration and do incredible tactics tomorrow. We’ll play with 12 tomorrow.”

Guardiola was certainly willing to challenge popular theories yesterday. He insisted, for example, that there was a “misconception” about the way Atletico played and that Diego Simeone’s side – often characterised as dour and defensive – were “more offensive than people believe”. Despite insisting that City felt “better prepared” than ever in the Champions League, Bernardo Silva admitted that they were still unsure how Atletico would approach the game.

It would certainly be no surprise if Simeone looked to ape the sort of strategies employed by the likes of Crystal Palace, Southampton and Tottenham, all of whom have taken points home and away from City in the Premier League this season.

Despite being the better team over two legs against a poor United, Atletico only won 2-1 on aggregate. Ralf Rangnick, the United interim manager, complained afterwards about Atletico’s time-wasting and play-acting, but Guardiola insisted he had no issues with such gamesmanship and that City knew how to run down a clock themselves.

“We’ll have to do the same – defend our position,” said Guardiola, who will be without the suspended right-back Kyle Walker. “I’m not going to judge for one second what they do, just get a result to take to Madrid [in the second leg]. I don’t know ‘playing ugly’.

“Bernardo spent four minutes in the corner at Old Trafford [in a 2-1 win in December 2017]. Defend our position. That’s all I’m here to talk about – what we try to play. I never judge the opponents, what they do and try to do – they try to do it to win.”

Manchester City v Atletico Madrid, Live, BT Sport 2, 8.0

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