LONDON — Pep Guardiola clasped his arms to his head, a glance of sheer exasperation on his face. Even that, although, didn’t really feel enough, not after certainly one of his gamers had given the ball away so carelessly. And so the Manchester Metropolis supervisor hurled himself to the bottom, curled over in his cable-knit sweater, and beat the turf together with his fists.
By the point he had picked himself up, the hazard had handed, however that was not the purpose. Guardiola seeks perfection; there are occasions when he takes something much less as a private slight. He frantically waved to the offender, Ilkay Gündogan, to seize his consideration. Within the tumult of the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on Tuesday, he needed to resort to mime.
Two arms, palms flat, raised: What, precisely, was that?
Two fingers, pointed to the temples: Assume.
Watching Guardiola on the touchline is exhausting. Few managers appear to change into so absorbed in a sport, so consumed by it. He strikes continuously, restlessly — pacing and jittering and signaling, bellowing directions and calling gamers over for transient conclaves and turning on his heel to seek the advice of together with his bench.
After some time, as soon as the actions are decoded, it’s virtually doable to inform how Manchester Metropolis is taking part in just by watching Guardiola, a cross between a telegraph service and an interpretive dance troupe.
Even at the very best of instances — which, given Metropolis’s success, is more often than not — he appears frazzled, however when issues should not going effectively, when his lofty requirements should not being met, every little thing quickens. Extra gamers are beckoned over, extra impromptu huddles are held, extra floor is roofed. His stress is sort of palpable.
Tuesday evening was a type of instances. Manchester Metropolis was not even shedding when Gündogan drew his ire: It could be one other couple of minutes earlier than Son Heung-min delivered the purpose that gave Tottenham a 1-Zero benefit heading into subsequent week’s second leg of this Champions League quarterfinal. On the time, certainly, Metropolis was ascendant, slowly asserting itself, drawing the sting from Spurs, quelling the noise from the group, beginning to create possibilities.
And but, even then, this was not the imperious Metropolis that has gained 22 of its final 23 video games, together with 14 straight. It was not the fine-tuned workforce that’s on target to win 98 factors within the Premier League, after hitting an unprecedented 100 final 12 months, or the one which had been hailed by Mauricio Pochettino, the Spurs coach, as arguably the very best workforce in Europe.
The temper had been set within the first few seconds, as Tottenham’s Harry Kane charged down Nicolás Otamendi, blocking his tried clearance, sending the ball arcing into the sky, inciting the 60,000 or so packed into Spurs’ box-fresh new dwelling. From that time on, Metropolis didn’t have a second to settle, to seek out its rhythm, to begin weaving its hypnotizing patterns.
Nonetheless, Guardiola’s workforce may need led — such is Metropolis’s high quality that it doesn’t have to play at its finest, and even particularly effectively, to create possibilities — had Sergio Agüero transformed an early penalty, awarded for a handball by Danny Rose that not one of the gamers, followers, coaches or officers within the stadium appeared to identify. (Rose did, admittedly, look a bit of sheepish.)
The Video Assistant Referee had seen it, although: Bjorn Kuipers, his counterpart on the turf, duly checked and pointed to the spot, for causes that might not have been clear to anybody not watching on a tv.
Maybe the sight of Hugo Lloris diving to his left and palming Agüero’s shot away was what strained Guardiola’s nerves. Maybe, at that time, a way of foreboding descended upon him.
There’s a curiosity in Guardiola’s gilded document as a coach. He’s, after all, essentially the most profitable supervisor of his technology. He has gained titles in Spain, Germany and England; he has gained the Champions League twice; he has, greater than as soon as, modified the soccer tradition of not only a membership however a rustic. He has improved dozens of gamers, many who may need fairly anticipated that they might not be improved. He’s, in 99 methods out of 100, past reproach.
He struggles, although, in relation to touring away from dwelling for Champions League knockout video games. Over the course of his profession, the last decade or so during which he has change into the gold customary for teaching, he has performed 26 such fixtures. He has gained simply six of them. This defeat — whether or not Metropolis can flip it round in Manchester subsequent week or not — means he has now drawn 10 and misplaced 10.
Given the assets Guardiola has had at his disposal in that span — the Barcelona of Messi, Xavi, and Andrés Iniesta; a Bayern Munich that dominated the Bundesliga; this Manchester Metropolis workforce that’s so untouchable in English home competitors — that document is unsatisfactory.
More and more, in these fixtures, he has the air of a person not fairly positive what to do, somebody who doesn’t — on this one particular context — belief his regular, impeccable instincts. At Liverpool final 12 months, he selected to flood the midfield, omitting Raheem Sterling in favor of the extra conservative Gündogan. Liverpool swept his workforce apart, leaving Metropolis an excessive amount of to do to recuperate at dwelling.
Right here, too, he tweaked the formulation that had labored so effectively the remainder of the 12 months. Amongst a raft of modifications, Gündogan began once more, alongside Fernandinho. Extra surprising nonetheless was the presence of the combative Fabian Delph and the enigmatic Riyad Mahrez. It was not till the ultimate two minutes that Kevin De Bruyne and Leroy Sané, his two most damaging choices on the bench, made an look.
There have been mitigating circumstances, after all. Metropolis has a busy April, a Premier League title to win and a squad to maintain recent. However regardless of the causes, the result was the identical. Metropolis stalled — not by a lot, however by sufficient. As soon as once more, on the highway in Europe — or at the very least as a lot as Britain is in Europe as of late — Guardiola tried to unravel an issue that didn’t exist, and caught himself out.
The harm needn’t be deadly, after all. Metropolis will nonetheless consider it may overturn this deficit on dwelling turf subsequent week, particularly with Kane now prone to be sidelined with an ankle damage for the remainder of the season. It will likely be tight, although, tense and nervous and strained, the kind of evening when what occurs within the technical space will let you know what occurs on the sphere.