Opinion

Guardiola's 'striker-less specials' a City masterpiece in the making

0:00

More than half a century after England's 'wingless wonders' won the FIFA World Cup, Manchester City are in pole position to snare their first UEFA Champions League without a recognised striker in the starting line-up.

Manager Alf Ramsey masterminded England's triumph in 1966 by using Roger Hunt and Geoff Hurst as strikers with Bobby Charlton and Nobby Stiles at the top and bottom of a very narrow diamond. Alan Ball and Martin Peters were on the sides.

The modified 4-4-2 system was foreign to a football country that saw wing play as one of its main strengths but, after a tentative start to the campaign, it worked.

Pep Guardiola, who is one of the shrewdest minds in world football, is using a similar innovative approach at this level as he tries to win the world's biggest prize for the third time after leading Barcelona to the title in 2009 and 2011.

His 'striker-less specials' comprehensively beat Paris Saint-Germain 4-1 on aggregate in the semi-finals and will be slight favourites to overcome Chelsea in the second all-English final in three years.

Chelsea swept aside Real Madrid with such consummate ease that viewers were left wondering how on earth they left it so late to seal a 2-0 win and snare the tie 3-1 on aggregate.

Yes, the Londoners were that good in both legs ... and the 'Merengues' that poor.

Ace striker Sergio Aguero has played a huge part in making City one of the world's finest and most successful teams in the last decade or so but the Argentine has seen his role diminished.

Guardiola would be forgiven for rewarding Aguero with a spot in the starting line-up in the final but sentiment has no place in the Spaniard's mentality, which is probably something that sets him apart.

For example, Tottenham's Mauricio Pochettino was accused of letting sentiment get the better of him when he picked a clearly unprepared Harry Kane in the 2019 final against Liverpool as a reward for his massive contribution to the team's cause. The free-scoring striker had a poor game and Spurs lost 2-0.

Guardiola no doubt will use the policy of not having fixed strikers when City take on the Londoners in Istanbul on May 30 (AEST).

The merits of this style that looks cautious but is anything but are considerable.

Having no out-and-out strikers means that City can dominate the course of a match with a large contingent of midfielders who can slot into attacking positions at the drop of an eyelid.

Guys like Riyad Mahrez, Kevin de Bruyne and Phil Foden are not true strikers in the same mould as Aguero or Gabriel Jesus but they know their way to goal as well as anybody and can be as creative as midfield specialists Bernardo Silva and Ilkay Gundogan.

Having no recognised strikers also means the points of attack are more varied and less predictable.

Defenders must wonder how City will come at them when they have five or six players capable of finishing off an attacking move from any angle?

Not to mention overlapping fullbacks Kyle Walker and Oleksandr Zinchenko, who play an important and often underrated part in City's game plan.

This tactical versatility can cause confusion to an opposing team, even allowing for the fact that modern defences defend the space not the man.

This reminds me of when the Dutch systematically destroyed 'catenaccio' and other defensive set-ups in the 1970s with their 'total football' approach.

If you were defending man-to-man and your opponents were capable of interchanging positions freely and regularly, could you imagine what confusion this would have caused?

If you were a defender marking a striker and an opposing centre-half came at you while your man dropped deep, what did you do? Follow him and leave a gap in defence? And who dealt with the 'unexpected visitor'?

Chelsea manager Thomas Tuchel has done wonders since taking over from Frank Lampard mid-season but the German guru will have to overcome this major problem if he is to lead his team to the holy grail.

Judging from the way they tore Madrid's defence to shreds with their deadly counter-attacks, it sounds like Chelsea will choose to let City have the ball, defend deep and in numbers and rely on quick transition if they are to win their second Champions League crown. 

Source SBS The World Game