• October 17, 2017
    Last updated 10 minutes ago

champions league

Guardiola forced to fall back on ‘Plan B’

Substance over style may be necessary for Man City in Barcelona

Chris Bascome, The Telegraph Group Ltd, London 2016
16:37 October 17, 2016
SPO_161017 Vincent Kompany
Manchester City’s manager Pep Guardiola

Manchester: There are times when being a genius must be torturous for Pep Guardiola. Having created a Barcelona side so exquisite it could have been exhibited in the Louvre, it is rather perplexing he is trying to replicate it in Manchester.

It is tempting to think of him as a modern day Leonardo da Vinci — being told that while the Mona Lisa was all well and good, and The Last Supper will continue to beguile scholars, his greatest challenge is to create a new masterpiece worthy of the Lowry.

As he returns to the Nou Camp this week it seems comically absurd that his credentials are to be judged on whether his vision can be — applied at Manchester City as flawlessly as with the side that continues to flourish thanks to his legacy. It rather feels like a private experiment — a manager with nothing to prove importing his sporting culture and sampling ours to satisfy personal fascination.

The story of how the good men of Barcelona tried to bring enlightenment to an area of Manchester will be a dinner party topic in Catalonia once Guardiola’s work here is done. But are we already seeing signs of compromise?

The more Guardiola is warned he must evolve in England in order to succeed — it may be more — accurate to argue his tactics need to regress a little in the Premier league, the more he insists his ideals will be untouched.

Yet in the final four minutes on Saturday, momentarily at least, it did feel like there was a tremor in the football universe. Guardiola summoned his captain, Vincent Kompany, and sent him on as an emergency striker in pursuit of a winning goal against Everton. Injury time became an exercise in City’s defenders aiming long, diagonal balls to the Belgian with scurrying midfielders hoping to pounce on second balls.

Would Guardiola have been so emboldened to do this in the Nou Camp? Would it ever be tolerated without the waving of white handkerchiefs? Would he repeat the strategy when searching for a winner or equaliser on Wednesday evening?

If so, his former charges may wonder what English football will do to Pep — force the puritanical devotee of Johan Cruyff to cherry pick from the Tony Pulis — dossier? The shock of such dark age desperation in search of a breakthrough demonstrates how Guardiola — rather like Jose Mourinho a few miles away — will forever be judged by a higher standard.

It also showed that while Guardiola’s Plan A is non-negotiable, he would never have achieved so much without a diplomatic dose of flexibility with Plans B, C and D. Depending on where you sit in the increasingly oversubscribed institute of modern football snobbery, the “Kompany as an emergency target man” option was a moment to curse, celebrate or conveniently ignore. Those of sound mind, who had seen City denied by a performance of a lifetime by Everton goalkeeper Maarten Stekelenburg, nodded in approval.

Guardiola had evidently seen the imperious Ashley Williams make one too many headed clearances.

Like Guardiola, Everton manager Ronald Koeman was a student of Cruyff but the Everton manager is no fundamentalist. There are days to pass opponents off the park and others, such as Saturday, when it is about the art of the last-ditch tackle and interception. The mutual appreciation — between the managers before the game was all about the Dutch and Spanish style.

It was fitting that at full-time both had showed that — far more importantly — they are coaches of substance. Last-ditch interceptions and ‘Plan B’ substance may well be necessary rather than creative genius to get a result in Barcelona on Wednesday. And there is nothing wrong with that.