The players make the game

Pep Guardiola and Diego Simeone could be the two biggest managerial freaks in all of football. The managers share an obsession and an unwavering commitment to their demanding game philosophy, both of which place a strict role on each player in an effort to dominate the game in a holistic, systematic and consistent way. Each person’s view of domination is the opposite. While both try to control space and play speed, Guardiola tries to achieve this with an offensive position and persistent possession, while Simeone does so with a defensive position and short, fast, vertical counter-attacks. Both have been incredibly successful. The main role that their play philosophy has in that success has made them both the protagonists of their clubs, the film industry. authors which everything that happens on the screen is driven to.

A draw in the quarter-finals of the Champions League between Manchester City at Guardiola and Atlético Madrid at Simeone caused interesting clashes not only between teams and players but also ideas and visions for the future. Much more than that was Kevin De Bruyne against Antoine Griezmann, the main fights of the draw were like Pep against Cholo, attacking defense, initiative vs reaction, idealism vs realism, unstoppable force vs immobile thing. Tuesday’s first phase was instructive, supporting some of these preconceptions while undermining others. Most of all, the game reminded us that no matter how great the managers are, or how certain a tactical structure that is put on the sidelines can prove to be, the football game is first and foremost for the players and is much better for them.

I’m just going to come out and say it: Tuesday’s game was mostly boring. Certainly, from an intellectual point of view, there was a lot of digging into the clash of the styles of Guardiola and Simeone, who in conflict with each other reached their radical extremes. It was Atlético’s super-defensive play 5–5–0, City’s persecution in the second half 3–1–6, the managers’ attempts to either hold back or release defender João Cancelo, and important substitutions that changed their nature. of the game. As advertised, the game was actually the chess of two grandmasters who played in a knot. Like real chess, you have to be a real weirdo to enjoy watching it.

Fortunately, the second half was a bit more lively than the first. This was largely due to the attack of substitutes from both teams, as their entry into the game loosened the grip of the two managers during the game and allowed the actual game to break out. No one deserves more credit for this than Phil Foden.

With 60 minutes played, a phenomenal play on the left side freed Simeone, of City, to dash through and score another goal for the visitors. . goal in the last half hour. Eight minutes later, Guardiola came on for three fresh strikers, including Foden. In just two minutes, Foden gave the game what he wanted: a little inspiration, talent, anarchy and excitement. All of this was what he brought to his death blow for De Bruyne’s winning goal:

Foden’s willingness and ability to deviate from the script that Guardiola and Simeone had been writing gave the second half, and thus the game, all its best moments. No coach’s diagram can allow a player to attract four defenders with his sense of position, then resist the attack of these defenders when they attack him, then release a masterfully heavy through ball between the legs of one defender, who continues to create a goal. . Players make goals and goals make the game. Guardiola may have provided Foden with a platform, but it was the player himself who did everything well.

At the same time making the game change the boundaries of games much deeper than any guy shouting from the sidelines can. As a result, after City took the lead, the game lost most of the structure it had been playing for the past hour. The game became open and both players came forward and tried to recreate the brilliance and influence of Foden’s goal game. For a good 10 or 15 minutes, the shackles were loose and the chess players regained their autonomy and did what they wanted. And once again, Foden took the lead, creating several more chances with his original dribbling and passing that could easily have increased City’s lead.

Before the end, however, both managers regained control and the game regained power from the season before the goal. When the whistle blew until the end of the game, the score was probably both encouraging and disappointing for both managers, who each got more or less what they wanted out of the game, but not quite as they would have liked.

A game like Tuesday can be a good correction for some of the narrower and dogmatic interpretations of football. Was Simeone really anything more “pragmatic” or “responsive” than Guardiola, when the game was played for an entire hour according to exactly the terms Simeone suggested? Is it sensible to consider Simeone to be “more conservative” or even “defensive” than Guardiola, when the latter’s ball game was made to play him safe by not letting Atlético go free on a dangerous counterattack? Coaches choose layouts and set goals and give instructions, but can they ever control what happens, especially what’s most important?

If anyone took the answers to these questions for granted before the game, the episode on Tuesday should have complicated them all – except hopefully the last one. Hopefully everyone knew that the best thing about football comes from the players, and before that City and Atleti’s settlement was just further evidence, when Foden came in and did what needed to be done.

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