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Pep Guardiola is perhaps the greatest manager of his generation, a tactical savant who revived a faltering Barcelona, entrenched Bayern Munich's domination of the Bundesliga and turned Manchester City into an all-conquering giant of English football. He has also had his fair share of shockers in the Champions League (to go with the two titles he won in Catalonia). Saturday's clash with Inter in Istanbul (you can catch all the action on CBS and Paramount+) offers a chance to make amends for the failings of the past, some his own, some those of his players and a fair few just the random happenstances that come with cup football. Here's how Guardiola has found himself going 14 years without winning the biggest prize in European club football:

The Bayern years

Guardiola found himself on something of a hiding to nothing when he took the reins at Bayern Munich in the summer of 2013 after a year's sabbatical post-Barcelona. He was supposed to be the man who took the Bavarians to the next level as a football force and while he may have done that stylistically, he never managed to match the feat of his predecessor Jupp Heynckes, the treble won against Borussia Dortmund at Wembley a few months earlier. Bayern were among the favorites in every one of Guardiola's three seasons.

In the spring of 2014, Real Madrid, a goal up from the semifinal first leg, crushed Bayern at the Allianz Arena in a match where Guardiola seemed to allow himself to be swept up in the excitement of a playing staff desperate to mastermind a thrilling comeback. Marti Perarnau's superb "Pep Confidential" unveils a Guardiola cursed by indecision for once, his assistant Dominic Torrent would subsequently say that "Pep's idea would have been a more wait-and-see tactic, but essential players wanted to act more urgently, more stormily."

If that was a defeat forged by his players then few were in any doubt that it was Guardiola who bore the greatest responsibility the following year, a baffling tactical gambit sending Bayern crashing out at the last four stage again. Facing off against perhaps the greatest attack ever assembled -- Neymar, Luis Suarez and future MLS designated player Lionel Messi -- Bayern opted to defend man for man. Their back three was torn to ribbons by Barcelona's front three even if the goals only came in the closing stages.

Rounding off Guardiola's trilogy of near misses, a heroic performance from Atletico Madrid's defense in 2015 sending the Bavarians crashing out on away goals. It just wasn't going to happen for Pep in Germany, was it? Anyway, off to Manchester, where things could not get any more unpredictable right? Right?

French struggles at City

Guardiola's first season in England has something of the feel of a fever dream to it. The great man, humbled by the wing back powers of Victor Moses and Marcos Alonso in the Premier League, bullied out of the Champions League by two-time flop in England Radamel Falcao in the Champions League? At the time this was viewed as an almighty choke by City and with some justification, after all, they were 5-3 up from the first leg and across both games there was some extremely ropey defending of set pieces and crosses in both games. Most of all though, it feels like the strongest case against the now-defunct away goals. Three hours of brilliant football had both teams tied on six goals apiece and ... you just ... stopped?

Anyway, if you want a real collapse by City against French opponents it doesn't come against a team with Kylian Mbappe, Bernardo Silva, Fabinho and Joao Moutinho. Four years later, between losses to Liverpool and Tottenham (we'll come back to the latter), the Champions League resumed for a string of one-off games to crown a champion in Lisbon amid the COVID-19 pandemic. City's task to reach the semifinals was simple, beat a Lyon side who had played only one competitive match since a Ligue 1 season in which they finished seventh had been brought to a premature close.

They promptly went and let in three goals, ripped to shreds by Karl Toko Ekambi, Houssem Aouar and Mousa Dembele. Again, this is one when you can clearly pin the blame on Guardiola's defensive system, switching to a back three for a game where Bernardo, David Silva, Phil Foden and Riyad Mahrez were left untouched on the bench. It is arguably the ur-Guardiola Champions League collapse, the moment when he overthought a winnable game and blew it for his team.

The curious case of the missing midfielder

Arguably because of what happened the following season. City had romped through the field on their way to the final in Porto, smashing Paris Saint-Germain to set up an all-Premier League clash with a Chelsea side who, despite having beaten them twice in the preceding weeks, were heavy underdogs. The Blues got a lot right in the final but it certainly felt that Guardiola had made it easier for the opposition by dropping Rodri and leaving Ilkay Gundogan isolated against N'Golo Kante and Jorginho.

The man himself even acknowledged at much, saying earlier this week: 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." By his notoriously self-assured standards, that is as close to a mea culpa as you're getting.

A total absence of luck

So yes Guardiola has made life harder for his team but then again even the elite of elite coaches do this plenty of times. They make adjustments to face the best opposition because that is what the best opposition make you do. Sometimes they pay off, as they did in the second leg against Real Madrid this season when Kyle Walker shut down Vinicius Junior on his own. 

Sometimes, though, you get all your coaching right and mad things just happen. Leading 5-3 on aggregate, you hold Real Madrid goalless for 90 minutes in the Santiago Bernabeu but Rodrygo goes wild in the dying moments and wouldn't you know it, that inevitable 2022 final against Liverpool in Paris is vanished. You might construct a brilliant winner to overcome Tottenham in 2019 only for Sergio Aguero's right boot to be adjudged to be offside by VAR and like that you are out.

The best football team in the country, which Guardiola tends to manage, usually wins the league because over a 38-game season all those little bits of variance generally balance themselves out (yes, yes, I know this does not apply to your club in that particular every season). In two matches of a low-scoring game such as football, however, sheer random chance can really spoil the party for even the best team in the world, which Bayern and City have been for most of the tenure of the Catalan.

Eventually though, the best team should get the job done. Finally the breaks go the way of Goliath, not David. At long last the players are fully fit, the coach has settled on an XI and a team. There is no room for any more silly business.



... What's that, Kyle Walker is the most minor of doubts? Riyad Mahrez, right back, your time has come!