It is often difficult to predict a Pep Guardiola starting line-up, but the Manchester City boss appears to have landed on a favourite XI as far as Champions League matches are concerned.
Blessed with a fully-fit squad for the semi-final second leg at home to Paris Saint-Germain, Guardiola is hoping to take City to their first ever final in the competition later this month.
They hold a 2-1 lead over last year’s losing finalists PSG, and there is every reason to believe Guardiola will stick to the same formula on Tuesday night as he has done in recent European ties.
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The knockout formula?
Guardiola has enjoyed the luxury of rotating in the Premier League without relinquishing City’s stranglehold on what is set to be their fourth title since 2012-13.
But when it comes to the Champions League knockouts, he has rarely made changes, with the below graphic highlighting how rarely Guardiola has strayed from his go-to XI.
Ederson, Kyle Walker, Ruben Dias, Rodri, Ilkay Gundogan, Bernardo Silva and Phil Foden have all started each knockout tie so far, with John Stones, Joao Cancelo, Riyad Mahrez and Kevin De Bruyne starting all but one.
It is a somewhat remarkable sight to see this consistency in a competition where Guardiola has often been accused of over-thinking his selections.
City crashed out of last year’s Champions League when the Spaniard picked a three-man defence against Lyon in the quarter-final – it was the first instance in Europe that season where they started with three at the back, and one of just four matches in all competitions in 2019-20.
Considering City played 59 matches last term, it was a surprise to see City’s formation change, but this time around a striker-less 4-3-3 – or at times 4-2-3-1 – has been the formula in Europe.
Riyad Mahrez of Manchester City celebrates with team mates after scoring their side’s second goal during the UEFA Champions League Semi Final First Leg match between Paris Saint-Germain and Manchester City at Parc des Princes
Image credit: Getty Images
It has reduced Gabriel Jesus and the returning Sergio Aguero to being named among the substitutes, so too Raheem Sterling, who has come off the bench twice in the last four knockout matches – having initially started the first five of City’s group games.
Guardiola has taken such a fancy to this XI that he has even hesitated to make changes within the 90 minutes, making just one substitute in each of the two quarter-final legs, as well as last week’s semi-final first leg.
With a one-goal lead and two away goals, Guardiola could feel within his rights to leave Jesus and Aguero out once more, putting the onus on PSG to attack and looking to counter through Foden and Mahrez out wide.
Of course, there could be slight tweaks – perhaps Oleksandr Zinchenko over Cancelo – but at this stage Guardiola would be wise to choose stick over twist given a place in the final is at stake. Whether he does or not, we’ll soon find out.
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