Pep Guardiola will still be having nightmares about how Mauricio Pochettino’s Spurs outgunned him on the counter in the Champions League two years ago – and PSG will be even more dangerous this time around
- Pep Guardiola will be looking for revenge vs Mauricio Pochettino on Wednesday
- Pochettino’s Spurs downed City back in Champions League quarters in 2018
- Spaniard has the edge in head-to-head but Pochettino has mental advantage
- PSG will likely lose the possession battle but can hit City hard on the counter
It’s an image that sums up the agony and ecstasy of a bonkers night at the Etihad – Pep Guardiola crumpled to the turf with his head in his hands.
On April 19, 2019, Mauricio Pochettino and his Tottenham side broke the hearts of Manchester City and their dumbfounded boss as they survived a dramatic VAR call at the death that disallowed what everyone thought was a Raheem Sterling winner in the Champions League quarter-finals.
Ending 4-4 on aggregate, Spurs had ridden their luck throughout and went ahead on away goals after Fernando Llorente controversially bundled in a corner off his hip – it was simply Pochettino’s night.
Pep Guardiola was left crushed after his City side were knocked out of the Champions League by Mauricio Pochettino’s Tottenham in 2019
The Argentine’s team rode their luck as they survived two VAR decisions to reach the semis
It was simply Pochettino’s night as he outclassed the Spaniard with a counter-attack set-up
The Argentine has come up against Guardiola plenty of times during his career, and the Spaniard has often emerged victorious while coaching the titans of Barcelona and Manchester City. But on that night in Manchester he left a mark on his old foe that may never heal.
On Wednesday night Guardiola has a chance to erase some of that heartbreak from his mind when he locks horns with Pochettino in the Champions League once again as his City side face PSG, this time in the semi-finals.
They are 180 minutes from a first ever Champions League final but standing in their way is a man who knows exactly how to hurt City – and now he has a far more dangerous squad to execute his plan after taking over in Paris.
A hallmark of his gameplan to down City in this competition last time out was to be aggressive off the ball and blistering on the counter-attack – with Lucas Moura and Son Heung-min leading the way to hurt City on the break, and it worked a treat.
The pace of Son Heung-min (right) and Lucas Moura was vital to opening City up
Pochettino now arguably has better options to hurt City with Neymar (left) and Kylian Mbappe
Spurs were at sixes and sevens at the back in that game but their attack was their best form of defence as Son netted twice in the first 10 minutes following two brilliant breakaways. Now Pochettino has swapped Son and Moura for Kylian Mbappe and Neymar. Quite the upgrade.
Of course, that clash two years ago was a miraculous encounter – something that won’t be repeated for a long time. Pochettino will be well aware he can’t rely on marginal VAR decisions and dramatic moments to save him this time around.
He certainly can’t afford a repeat of the slug-fest that saw five goals scored in the first 20 minutes of the game, but he’ll be looking for his PSG players to retain the same philosophy of using the ball intelligently and hitting City on the break wherever possible.
Pochettino had set up with a 4-4-2 diamond – Son and Moura leading the line with Victor Wanyama acting as the anchor man in front of Dele Alli and Moussa Sissoko, with Christian Eriksen supporting the attack.
His 4-4-2 diamond set-up was effective going forward but left huge gaps for City at the back – and Raheem Sterling thought he had won it at the death only to see VAR chalk off his goal
Spurs had a spare man in midfield and were able to cut City apart through the middle, with Vincent Kompany and Aymeric Laporte exposed and dragged out of position a handful of times.
But the nature of the system left their full-backs exposed, which gave City, deploying a 4-3-3, plenty of joy down the flanks and was a huge factor in their early onslaught of the Spurs defence.
Now with PSG, Pochettino will want to manage both legs a little more carefully. In the first leg of Tottenham’s quarter-final against Guardiola’s City they managed to survive a penalty miss before holding off City’s threat and taking a 1-0 advantage to the Etihad thanks to Son’s second-half winner.
His PSG players have already demonstrated their ability to see off top opponents over two legs after taking Barcelona apart at the Nou Camp before moving their way past holders Bayern Munich. The danger is there for Guardiola.
Pochettino will instruct his PSG team to manage both legs carefully but to counter relentlessly
PSG have already shown they have the quality and know-how to see off big teams in Europe
He has weapons of his own, however. His side are cruising to a third Premier League title under his leadership and have already won the League Cup as they chase a Treble. Guardiola’s side have been scintillating this season – all while having a difficult start to the campaign and playing most of it without a recognised forward.
It’s forced him to deploy a ‘false 9’, usually operated by Bernardo Silva or Kevin De Bruyne – with the bulk of his goals coming from Ilkay Gundogan, Phil Foden and Riyad Mahrez. That fluidity in midfield will be something for Pochettino to think about.
Nobody plays against a Pep Guardiola team and dominates the ball – even with talented stars like Angel Di Maria and Marco Verratti in the middle of the park. He’ll concede the lion’s share of possession, so they must make it count when they do have it.
Guardiola’s side will have the lion’s share of the ball but may struggle without a top striker
Statistics provided by sofascore.com
Guardiola has overseen 18 games against his opposite number Pochettino throughout his career – with 10 wins, five draws and just three losses. His side have scored 34 goals compared to Pochettino’s 18.
But nine of those games came while he was in charge of Espanyol, while the Spaniard was boss of one of the greatest teams of all time at bitter rivals Barcelona.
The first league meeting between the pair in 2009 produced one of the biggest shocks as his struggling relegation-threatened side pulled off a 2-1 win at the Nou Camp thanks to Ivan De La Pena’s double.
Pochettino has an inferior head-to-head record with Guardiola but won their first league meeting back in 2009 when his Espanyol side beat his Barca giants
The Argentine showed he is a match for Guardiola after moving to Tottenham
That was his first and only win over Guardiola in Spain – but in their first meeting in England he tasted victory once again as Tottenham beat Manchester City 2-0 to enhance their title credentials in 2016.
He would go on to beat Pochettino five times in matches against Spurs but suffered two frustrating 2-2 draws in 2017 and 2019, the latter of which saw history repeat itself as VAR disallowed another late City goal, this time scored by Gabriel Jesus.
The record books smile favourably on Guardiola in the head-to-head battle, but as Pochettino’s career has developed, so has his knack of getting one over the former Barca boss.
It will be fascinating to see how Pochettino goes about attacking City over these two legs, and he will go into the tie full of confidence. He not only boasts an upgraded set of personnel, but also carries a weighty mental advantage from an encounter that bruised Guardiola’s ego.
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