Pep Guardiola’s spotty Champions League record since winning the last of his two titles with Barcelona in 2011 comes under serious scrutiny when Manchester City defend a precarious 2-1 lead at Borussia Dortmund’s Signal Iduna Park on Wednesday. The Catalan coach’s lofty status as a leading innovator within the beautiful game has been built on a stellar record of eight league titles in his last eleven seasons as manager with Barcelona, Bayern Munich and City. And although his imperious credentials should be further cemented by his third English Premier League gong in five years, his record on the continent is anything but spectacular.
Failure to mastermind safe passage past the quarter finals in successive seasons against Liverpool as well as European lightweights Monaco, Tottenham Hotspur and Lyon has exposed Guardiola to allegations he is a flat-track bully who finds it easy to demolish football also runs but is found out once faced with managerial equals. The City boss has often had to ward off accusations that he costs City by excessive tinkering. On Saturday, he dismissed similar allegations after seven changes to the line up that defeated Dortmund ended in a 1-2 reversal at the hands of Marcelo Bielsa’s ten-man Leeds United.
Legendary 13-time champions Real Madrid and six-time winners Liverpool collide at Anfield in a clash loaded with history. Real boss Zinedine Zidane, who is the only manager to win Europe’s elite club football tourney three years in a row, has once again tooled Los Blancos to peak at the right moment. Buoyed by Saturday’s 2-1 El Clasico victory over Barcelona, the Santiago Bernabeu club go into the match confident of defending a two goal first leg lead against a Jurgen Klopp side blowing hot and cold. Anfield has over the years been a slaughterhouse for visiting teams but it’s hard to envisage that without the vociferous Kop bellowing ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’.
Lack of freshness borne of a punishing fixture schedule which sees the Sky Blues often play in the Carabao Cup final and FA Cup’s later stages is partly responsible for Pep’s incessant Champions League tinkering. The seven stars who were rested Saturday – Riyad Mahrez, Ilkay Gundogan, Phil Foden, Rodri, Kyle Walker and Ruben Dias are all expected to regain their places in Germany where Edin Terzic’s young side will have belief they can upset the applecart, having given the bookmakers favourites a good run for their money at Etihad Stadium where Jude Bellingham’s incorrectly disallowed goal cost them a share of the spoils.
Tuesday sees Mauricio Pochettino’s Paris Saint Germain defend a 3-2 lead over Hansi Flick’s reigning champions Bayern Munich. Last Wednesday, the Parisian moneybags were at times unplayable in inflicting the Bavarians’ first Champions League defeat in nineteen outings. Still without injured top scorer Robert Lewandowski and Serge Gnarby (Covid-19), Bayern Munich’s lack of firepower was apparent in a one-all Bundesliga stalemate with Union Berlin whereas PSG underlined their form by tearing apart Strasbourg 4-1 in French Ligue One.
Thomas Tuchel’s Chelsea revolution continues when they face Porto at Sevilla’s Estadio Sanchez Pizjuan in Tuesday’s other fixture. The German tactician is known for his rotation but he will be tempted to keep the same line up that disposed of Crystal Palace 4-1 in the Premier League. A key feature of the 2012 champions in that particular game was the use of Kai Havertz as a False Nine, a role he executed to near perfection. Porto boss Sergio Conceicao celebrated the quarter final draw with Chelsea but his side face the uphill task of bridging a 0-2 deficit from the first leg.
Chelsea v FC Porto
Paris Saint Germain v Bayern Munich
Borussia Dortmund v Manchester City, Liverpool v Real Madrid