Pep Guardiola: I got the game plan wrong in the 2021 final

Guardiola - I may have overthought Manchester City's Champions League failure - Shutterstock/Jose Coelho
Guardiola - I may have overthought Manchester City's Champions League failure - Shutterstock/Jose Coelho

Pep Guardiola has admitted he may have got it wrong in the Champions League final two seasons ago.

Manchester City face Inter Milan in Istanbul on Saturday hoping to win an elusive first European Cup in a hurdle Guardiola says they must cross to be considered a truly big club.

And Guardiola says he is hoping for a better outcome than in the final against Chelsea in 2021, when he surprisingly dropped his first choice holding midfielder, Rodri, and watched his team lose 1-0 in Porto.

“It was a gameplan [against Chelsea], like it will be on Saturday,” the City manager said. “If I tell you privately the reason why I took the decision in that moment you could say it was right but it is simple: ‘If I lose, I am wrong, if I win I am right.’”

“You have to accept that in this business. It was a tight game and in many things we were better than them but we lost. Would I do something different now? Maybe but that doesn’t count.”

City clinched their fifth Premier League title in six seasons last month and on Saturday won the second double of Guardiola’s seven-year reign by beating Manchester United in the FA Cup final at Wembley.

But Guardiola admits City – who can become only the second club in English football history after United to win the Treble if they beat Inter  – must conquer Europe to establish their place at the top of the game.

“Sooner or later we have to win in Europe to go to another level,” he said. “So many clubs have destroyed projects and ideas because they weren’t able to win this competition, and so many have become big clubs because they were able to win it.”

“Even if I don’t share this opinion, I understand that everything we have done through all these years, which has been a lot and very good, will make sense to others if we win this competition.”

“If we don’t win it, then things will seem to ‘make less sense’. It’s a bit unfair, but we must accept it. That’s how it is.”

Guardiola added: “We must also accept that if we want to make a definitive step as a big club, we must win in Europe.”

“We have to win the Champions [League] – that’s something you can’t avoid. But the most important thing is to be there again and again and again. Two years ago, we were there [in the final]. Two years later, we are here again.”

“We will try, and the most important thing is to be here again in a few years. That’s what defines a big club when year after year, you make it to the Champions League fighting in the latest stages, and winning the title.”

Kyle Walker was the only noticeable absentee from training on Tuesday after complaining of a back problem in the wake of the FA Cup final.

“He had a disturbance in his back – yesterday he was not good,” Guardiola said. “Today he was a little bit better. We didn’t want to take a risk and we will see in the next days.”

Nonetheless, Walker played down the extent of the problem and insisted he would be fit to face Inter. “I’m fine, I’m just getting old! No, I’m completely fine,” the England defender said. “It’s just an extra day of recovery.”

Despite the pain of losing the final to Chelsea two years ago, Guardiola said there had been no mention of that game this week.

“I didn’t speak about the final,” he said. “Some [players] were there, some not. It’s a completely different situation. It’s not like two years ago or last season, we have to know exactly what we have to do to beat this opponent in terms of approach about the system they use and what they do with and without the ball.”

“[Two seasons ago] we’d lost two times against Thomas Tuchel’s [Chelsea] team [going into the final] and had some doubts about if we could do it. It is not the same but they both play five in the back - Chelsea and Inter.”

“The approach was defensive too but, of course, Chelsea also had incredibly good patterns to play and punish us. I would not say it’s similar but there are some things [to consider]. Hopefully we can attack a little bit better than we did in that time.”

“For history, they [Inter] are better than us. But it is about what you have to do to be better than the opponent in 95 minutes, it doesn’t count what you have done in the group stages or the Premier League or the FA Cup. We have to be better than them.”

“With our club, I’ve learnt that overexcitement doesn’t suit us. We will travel there to accomplish a dream. We will try to have a good game and win the final. We know we had a chance two years ago. We didn’t make it by the narrowest margin last year. We are there again this year and will try to give our best.”

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