Manchester City is the champion of the Champions League 2023. He won 1-0 against Inter Milan in Istanbul and thus lifted the first orejona in his history. He did not play his best game and suffered too much but it is a more than fair prize for his coach Pep Guardiola, the man of the permanent revolution.
Not to be confused: this City that marveled with its ethical and aesthetic game was on the verge of chaos just a few months ago. In January of this year, more precisely. The click came at half-time of the match pending the seventh round of the Premier League that Tottenham won 2-0 to City at the Etihad. Something happened in that locker room.
Perhaps it was a furious monologue from Pep Guardiola or a sobering silence. It will possibly be seen on some series of streaming platforms. The truth is that the local cast was able to turn the result around and ended up winning 4-2. From there, he did not stop triumphing (won 23, drew 5 and lost 2) and shined to reach and surpass the then comfortable leader Arsenal. The achievements: he stayed with the Premier League, with the FA Cup and the Champions League, a treble for history.
Pep Guardiola suffered the match against Inter from start to finish. Photo: YASIN AKGUL / AFP.
"I notice that there is no energy, there is no passion. Rico Lewis gets kicked four times and nobody defends him. There are 4 leagues won in 5 years... I see Arsenal, who have not won the Premier League for two decades, and they kill for every ball. We don't. We play well, we do well the exit of the ball and the pressure, but there is something inside that we do not have", fired that day the Catalan coach.
It was a public message to explode indoors. The possibilities were twofold: the speech took effect or something broke. The first thing happened.
Pep Guardiola is a permanent revolutionary. Or a revolutionary in a continuous state of alert. Nobody in recent times has given so much to football: the Catalan coach takes the sport to maximum levels of beauty and efficiency. And for that to happen it is always innovating, studying, working, improving and learning.
Fists raised for Pep Guardiola, who reaches his third Champions League as coach. Photo: Paul ELLIS / AFP.
There is nothing left to chance in Guardiola. In football, there is nothing more innocuous than a start to play. A long time ago, in the early 1990s, Argentina played with that action. "Who moves?", asked Mauro Viale in First Division Football. "Move, Mauro," replied the one who gave the first touch.
But as Guardiola thinks the games from the second one to the end, a serve from the middle can be worked and be an important move.
To support the assertion, it is enough to see the start of the FA Cup final between City and Manchester United at Wembley. İlkay Gündoğan stood in front of the ball and touched it hard for goalkeeper Stefan Ortega Moreno, who went to find the ball well away from his area.
The German stopped it and sent it long for Haaland, who won from above. Kevin De Bruyne went for the second, fought it, and Gundogan, the one who had taken out, hung it from De Gea's angle. It was just 13 seconds. A goal from the middle.
Pep Guardiola with the Emirati Khaldoon al-Mubarak, director of Manchester City. Photo: Paul ELLIS / AFP.
Haaland and Stones, the key players
Two players are the synthesis of the revolution that Guardiola commanded this season. The first is Norway's Erling Haaland, an area centre-forward who didn't fit Pep's philosophy. A phrase from Catalan is famous. "If I could, I would play with 11 midfielders." But time passed and thought fell into disuse. "Guardiola doesn't like to play with strikers, I played fart," Sergio Agüero said.
Pep changed and allowed himself something: the long ball to 9. And it was not a sacrilege, but a virtue. "The style is set by the players. If we have Haaland how are we not going to take advantage of him: we will play for him," Guardiola summed up. So, Manchester can not only try to get out playing from below: they could also skip lines.
Guardiola embraces Haaland, his perfect weapon that failed in the final but gave him an unforgettable season. Photo: FRANCK FIFE / AFP.
It is true that he had wet powder in the key moments of this Champions League, against Real Madrid in the semis series and against Inter in the final. But the Norwegian is a magnet not only for the ball but also for defenders. The Spanish team paid too dearly; The Italian learned his lesson but it didn't reach him either.
The other modification was in the last line with the irruption of John Stones. There is nothing Guardiola works on more than defence. As the coach knows that his team is going to star in most of the games, he prepares so that they do not hurt him in the few that attack him.
The innovation in this 2023 was to plant a defense with 4 centers: Walker, Stones, Dias and Akanji. In case of playing Aké, it is Akanji who occupies the right side. With the 4 defenders he got more aerial play and better coverage in the rival counterattacks.
Guardiola and the Champions League champion medal, a postcard that crowns his great cycle in the English team. Photo: REUTERS/Matthew Childs.
Guardiola left aside the wingers, so important is always their structures. Philipp Lahm patented a move when the Catalan was at Bayern Munich: he closed to play as a midfielder. The intention was to generate superiority at the exit. The evolution for Pep was to make a centre-back forward instead of a full-back. And Stones was the chosen one. The 29-year-old Englishman is the one who positions himself next to the Spaniard Rodri to put together a 3-2 in exit and be in the same way in attack. With that small adjustment, that it is a central defender who is forward and not a winger, the team gained a lot of solidity.
"It's not so natural for me to be in midfield, but I'm willing to keep trying to improve, read the game better and bring my qualities and skills to the team. I'm watching a lot of post-match videos and seeing where I can improve. I want to play the best I can. It also makes me improve my reading of the game in different positions on the field. I'm really enjoying it and I think it's paying off," Stones explained.
Manchester City was consecrated against Inter in Turkey and Pep Guardiola lifted his third Champions League, the first away from Barcelona and after 12 years of insistence: a prize for his permanent revolution.