Manchester City have taken a giant step towards reaching the semi-finals of the Champions League after a dominant 3-0 victory over Bayern Munich on Tuesday.
Despite his long wait to win Europe’s top club competition again, Manchester City’s manager Pep Guardiola showed his tactical brilliance and guided his team to an impressive win.
Guardiola has faced criticism for over-complicating things in the knockout stages of the Champions League since he last lifted the trophy as Barcelona’s manager in 2009. During his time in charge of Bayern Munich between 2014 and 2016, he suffered three semi-final exits. And even with Manchester City, he came close to delivering the coveted title in 2021 but lost to Thomas Tuchel’s Chelsea.
However, in this match, Guardiola’s big calls paid off, and his team produced a clinical performance that left Bayern Munich reeling. After much tinkering with the defensive setup early in the season, Guardiola settled on a back four made up entirely of natural center-backs, with Ruben Dias, John Stones, Nathan Ake, and Manuel Akanji forming an impenetrable wall in front of goalkeeper Ederson.
Stones played at center-back, with Akanji shifted to right-back to handle the pace of Bayern’s Leroy Sane and Kingsley Coman. Guardiola was pleased with how his defense handled the pressure without being anxious, saying, “The back four, how they handled it without stress, without being anxious. Knowing that in that type of game there are minutes where you are going to suffer, to struggle.”
City showed more clinical edge this time around, with Rodri scoring a stunning first-half strike, and Bernardo Silva, who was recalled at the expense of Riyad Mahrez, heading home the second goal. Guardiola’s decision to bring on Julian Alvarez for Kevin De Bruyne proved to be a masterstroke, as Alvarez’s energy helped swing the momentum City’s way. Alvarez almost scored twice himself before assisting Stones, whose header found Erling Haaland to slot home City’s third goal of the night.
Bayern’s coach Tuchel was left shell-shocked after the match, saying, “We got punished brutally. This is the highest level in world football.” Guardiola, on the other hand, was pleased with his decision-making, adding, “I’m here to take decisions and I take it. That’s my biggest quality as a manager. I see the performance on the pitch in that moment we needed extra energy with Julian, and that’s why I decided.”
City’s Abu Dhabi owners have been waiting for their moment of Champions League glory, but Guardiola’s team is getting closer. They have one foot in the semi-finals, and only a remarkable Bayern comeback in the second leg can deny them a third consecutive semi-final appearance.