Pep Guardiola’s Champions League record suggests he may not be a genius after all

Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City succumbed to a 1-0 defeat against Spurs in the first leg of their UEFA Champions League quarterfinal. The defeat is Guardiola’s third straight defeat in the last eight of the competition and it once again raises questions about Guardiola’s genius as a manager.

On 12 April 2011, a full-strength Barcelona side travelled to Ukraine to play Shakhtar Donetsk with a 5-0 lead from the first leg at the Nou Camp. Lionel Messi scored the only goal of the game for Pep Guardiola’s side and eight years later, it is still Guardiola’s only away victory in the last eight of the UEFA Champions League.

At that time, Sergio Aguero was still an Atletico Madrid player. Now, he is Manchester City’s all-time leading goalscorer. This gives a big picture of how long it has been since a Guardiola led side has won an away leg in the quarterfinal of the Champions League.

Manchester City signed Pep Guardiola with the hope of winning the coveted Champions League title and spent close to half a billion pounds to reinforce the City squad. However, in his first season in charge, his side was knocked out by Monaco in only the Round of 16 and in 2017/18, despite breaking numerous Premier League records, his side fell short in Europe after being beaten comprehensively by rivals Liverpool in the last eight.

Before joining Man City, Guardiola inherited a treble-winning Bayern Munich side and added players such as Robert Lewandowski, Mario Gotze and Thiago Alcantara only to exit the competitions in the semifinal round three years on the trot.

A deeper investigation of his record in the knockout stage of the Champions League reveals a scary picture.

Break down of Guardiola’s record in the knockout stage of the Champions League

Since taking over as manager of Barcelona in 2009, Guardiola has played 26 knockout matches in the Champions League for Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Manchester City combined. Ten of these matches were in the Round of 16, nine in the quarterfinal and seven in the semifinal.

Including the most recent match against Spurs, in the 26 away games, Guardiola has won six games, drawn ten and lost ten with a win percentage of only 23. Four out of his six away wins were in the first knockout stage against Bayer Leverkusen, Arsenal, Basel and most recently against relegation-threatened Schalke this season.

As mentioned earlier, he has one away win the quarterfinal which was against Shakhtar in 2011 and one win in the semifinal against Real Madrid in the same season. The away win over Real Madrid needs more elaboration but more on that later.

In the Round of 16, Guardiola’s Barcelona failed to win away games against Lyon and Stuttgart in 2008/09 and 2009/10 respectively. In 2016/17, his Man City side lost to Monaco in the same round and exited the competition.

In the quarterfinal, his Bayern Munich side could not win against David Moyes’ Manchester United at Old Trafford in 2013/14, lost 3-1 to Porto in 2015/16 and drew 2-2 to Benfica in 2015/16. With Manchester City, he has lost both away legs in the quarterfinal with an aggregate score of 4-0. 

Finally, in the semifinal, he has lost five out of seven away matches. In the two instances, he did not lose a semifinal away leg, his side went on to lift the trophy but both matches were full of controversy and this brings us to the next topic of discussion. 

The case of the two Champions League titles he won

When the subject of Guardiola’s failures in the Champions League with some of the best squads in Europe comes up, he is often let off the hook by the fact that he has won two titles already. However, more should be said of how his side won the two titles.

In 2009, the year when Barcelona won the treble and went on to win the sextuple, they played Chelsea in the semifinal and the first leg at Nou Camp finished 0-0. The return leg at Stamford Bridge is widely regarded as the most controversial match in the tournament’s history. Chelsea took the lead in the ninth minute and had the better chances throughout the game. The Blues had four appeals for a penalty ignored by the now infamous referee, Tom Henning Øvrebø. Of those appeals, the strongest one was for a clear handball by Gerard Pique with ten minutes left. 

In the third minute of added time, Andres Iniesta scored a sensational goal from Barcelona’s only shot on target to take them through to the final and give Guardiola his only away draw in the semifinal of the Champions League.

In 2011, when Guardiola won his second Champions League title, there was controversy in the quarterfinal and the semifinal.

In the last eight, his side played Arsenal and lost the first leg at the Emirates 2-1. In the second leg, in the 56th minute, with the score at 1-1 and Barcelona needing at least one more goal, Robin van Persie, who had been booked earlier in the game, was shown a second yellow for attempting a shot after the whistle was blown for offside. 

He was unjustly booked for timewasting and Van Persie argued that he couldn’t hear the whistle over the noise of the crowd as the referee was nowhere near the Dutchman. The advantage of the extra man helped the Catalan side reach the semifinal where they faced Real Madrid.

The first leg of the semifinal was played at the Santiago Bernabeu and Jose Mourinho’s defensive setup frustrated the visitors.

It was a heated encounter with numerous incidents and in the second half, with deadlock yet to be broken, the referee showed a straight red card to Pepe. The Portuguese man attempted to win the loose ball from Dani Alves and he had his foot on the ball without making contact with the Barcelona man. However, Alves dived and the referee was gullible enough to fall for it and dismiss Pepe.

Jose Mourinho protested and was sent to the stands. Barcelona went on to score two goals against Real Madrid who were a man down and that victory is Guardiola’s only away win the Champions League semifinal in seven attempts. The return leg ended 1-1 and in that game, Gonzalo Higuain had a goal ruled out controversially.

When all of this information is put together, one can’t help but wonder if Pep Guardiola is truly a genius – at least on the European stage.

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