Manchester City’s bid for a historic quadruple was ended by Chelsea in Saturday’s FA Cup semi-final – with pundits highlighting Pep Guardiola’s team selection as a factor.
Games are coming thick and fast for City, as they play in the Premier League, the Carabao Cup final and the Champions League over the next 11 days.
And that hectic schedule may have played a part in Guardiola’s decision to make eight changes for the FA Cup semi-final against Chelsea at Wembley – with Hakim Ziyech giving Thomas Tuchel’s side a 1-0 win.
“There were so many changes that had a negative impact on City,” ex-Tottenham and Newcastle midfielder Jermaine Jenas said on BBC Radio 5 Live.
“The front three just didn’t function at all. I can’t believe Guardiola didn’t start his best team today.”
But how much was the outcome down to Guardiola’s selections, and how much down to Tuchel’s tactics?
Did Guardiola miss a trick by not playing best XI?
Just three days before facing Chelsea, Manchester City beat Borussia Dortmund to reach the Champions League semi-finals for the first time under Guardiola.
For large parts of Saturday’s semi-final, though, a much-changed City struggled to build any rhythm.
“Eight [changes] is a little bit much,” former Manchester City defender Micah Richards said on BBC One.
“City had no spark. Because of the Champions League, they looked a bit leggy. I have to give credit to Chelsea. They made them only have little chances.”
Former Arsenal defender Lee Dixon believes Guardiola may come to regret his approach for this game.
“When Guardiola looks back at this, he’ll think his team missed an opportunity,” said Dixon.
“If City have two or three trophies at the end of the season it’ll be fine, but they’ll be disappointed about this for a while.”
How Tuchel’s tactics made Man City struggle
As Borussia Dortmund manager, Tuchel had faced Guardiola’s Bayern Munich five times when they were both in Germany, failing to win any of those encounters.
However, there were signs from the outset against City that Tuchel, who took charge of the Blues in January, had found a system that was problematic for Guardiola’s side.
An early strike by Ziyech was ruled out for offside following a quick break from Timo Werner, but it provided a warning of what was to come.
City continued to struggle with the pace of Chelsea’s attack and it finally paid dividends when Ziyech successfully broke the offside trap and turned in from Werner’s square ball.
“Chelsea’s system stopped Manchester City playing,” former Newcastle striker Alan Shearer said on BBC One.
“City played a high line – one of the reasons Werner played was to use his pace and get in behind and it worked to perfection.
“Usually City pass and pass and try to wear you down. Chelsea weren’t bothered. They held their shape and City couldn’t get in behind. Chelsea were so compact. Excellent. They look very comfortable in the system they played.”
In his three months at Chelsea, Tuchel has beaten teams managed by Guardiola, Jurgen Klopp, Diego Simeone, Jose Mourinho and Carlo Ancelotti – all without conceding a single goal.
“When Frank Lampard left, nobody knew what the future would look like,” ex-Chelsea defender Ashley Cole said on BBC One.
“We knew they had some quality young players. Now they’ve got a great manager, tactically very good and the boys are working very hard for him.”
Closing the gap sooner than expected?
Prior to the game, Tuchel had talked about his determination for Chelsea to close the gap between themselves and Manchester City, and that they would “hunt” them next season.
This term, the Blues are 20 points behind leaders City but there were plenty of signs in this game that the two sides will be much closer in 2021-22.
“It feels fantastic because we were playing the best team in Europe right now and we managed to close the gap for 90 minutes,” Tuchel said.
“At the end of each half, we had to suffer and we also needed a bit of luck but it was a deserved win.
“I am so proud because it is so hard against City, you have to be on your top level. It was a quality performance.”
Guardiola also accepted there was very little between the two sides, saying that “tight margins” proved the difference.
Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola, speaking to BBC Sport, said: “We played a good last 15 minutes. We had struggled to find our place in the pockets but congratulations to Chelsea.
“It was a tight game. We conceded the goal but after we reacted well, especially after Phil Foden and Ilkay Gundogan came in.
“[Against] the team that defends with eight players in the final third, it is not easy. This type of game the margin is so tight.”