TV View: Gündogan the fall guy as Guardiola pays price for tinkering

Decision to play without holding midfielder left pundits perplexed

Pep Guardiola the alchemist, the Manchester City manager with the golden football philosophy discovered that for one night in Porto the substance of his team's performance was more iron pyrites as they slumped to a 1-0 defeat to Chelsea in the Champions League final.

The result largely colours or informs the analysis of team set-up and tactics but in the Virgin Media studios ahead of kickoff Brian Kerr and Niall Quinn expressed misgivings about the absence of a holding midfielder in City's line-up, a concern that would prove prescient in the way the match unfolded.

Guardiola chose a team in much the same way many online gamers would on the X-Box or Playstation platforms, championing attacking flair over structure and solidity, presumably on the premise that City would dominate possession and that the surfeit of creativity would be able to unpick the Chelsea defence.

The Spaniard had a little bit of form in tinkering terms as the boys pointed out in studio, highlighting a decision to switch from a favoured back four to a back three ahead of a 3-1 European quarter-final defeat to Lyon the previous season. Unfortunately one ill-judged brushstroke can ruin what previously appeared a perfect canvas.


The absence of either Rodri or Fernandinho in the City midfield caused Kerr and Quinn to be skittish, a feeling that wasn’t eased when studio anchor Tommy Martin subsequently threw out the statistic that ‘one or other of the aforementioned duo had been present in 59 out of City’s last 60 matches.’

Where’s Wally?

The half-time analysis back in studio became a football equivalent of the children's picture book, 'Where's Wally?' with City midfielder lkay Gündogan, taking the role of the main protagonist, not only in relation to his whereabouts for Kai Havertz goal that gave Chelsea a 1-0 lead, but in his general positional play when the London side broke quickly on counterattack.

Kerr was forced to scour the screen to find Gündogan in a defensive context because according to the former Republic of Ireland manager the player certainly wasn’t where he was supposed to be. And goodness knows a couple of members of the City back four needed assistance on foot of one or two moments of slapstick defending.

The German international would probably be better served not watching a rerun of the Virgin media coverage because there wasn't too much love thrown his way by the match commentary team of Dave McIntyre and Gerry Armstrong either.

The pair speculated that Gündogan would be the player coming off on each occasion that Guardiola altered the starting line-up. While they were mistaken there was some veracity to the observation. The German, on a yellow card, narrowly survived to the final whistle in every sense.

Virgin’s general football coverage and its formation, with Kerr at the tip of the diamond, is sharp, articulate, informative and entertaining without intruding unduly on the pictures or being preachy and Saturday night once again represented that quality. It’s applicable to the commentary box and the studio; everyone contributes to the overall picture.

Gold star

Kerr brings a level of detail when discussing players that none of his peers match. It’s gold star homework. It’s not just a question of googling someone’s name, there is more nuance and knowledge than simply casting an eye over a few stats or a YouTube clip. It’s important to be able to interpret and contextualise.

It doesn’t matter whether the viewer agrees or disagrees with Kerr’s view; the likelihood is that they are going to know something that they didn’t before watching the game.

The consensus on the night and across a broader spectrum of media was that Guardiola got it wrong tactically and by extension that Chelsea boss Thomas Tuchel got it right. It is rarely that simple but there was unanimity in the radio and print post match analysis.

On a slight tangential note referee Antonio Mateu Lahoz largely took no nonsense, refusing to indulge the theatrics of players from both teams. He was firm and unequivocal. There was one brilliant illustration after Chelsea midfielder Jorginho, having suffered a desultory tackle of no real impact, decided to crocodile-roll from one touchline to the other.

It was a pathetic simulation but the referee jogged over with the message to ‘get up and get on with it,’ and miraculously, within a second Jorginho was on his feet and sprinting to close down a City player. No one batted an eyelid; it didn’t even draw a reference on commentary and while it is a staple of the game, it was a rare discordant note for the neutral on the night in question on or off the pitch.