Football

Pep Guardiola: Real’s ‘defensive game’ prompted unorthodox tactics

Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola explained his unorthodox tactics in the 2-1 win over Real Madrid yesterday morning (Singapore time), saying they were a ploy to combat the Spanish side's "defensive game".

City lined up in 4-4-2 formation without any specialist strikers up front in the Champions League, last-16, first-leg clash at the Santiago Bernabeu.

Guardiola played midfielders Kevin de Bruyne and Bernardo Silva as false No. 9s, while the only recognised striker, Gabriel Jesus, started on the left wing. City's all-time top scorer Sergio Aguero was left on the bench.

Despite City going a goal down after defensive errors led to Isco's 60th-minute opener, the English champions hit back through a Jesus header and a de Bruyne penalty.

Explaining his tactical tweaks, Guardiola said: "We decided to play without a proper striker for the way they defend, so high, so aggressive. And when that happens, you make the pitch wide, you put balls in and they're good at winning these balls, they want to put it to the wingers...

"I look at the opponents. We had 10 free days and in those days, I watched the most amount of matches of Real. Their defensive game was different.

"That's why we changed. The space was to attack, but never since I've been a coach have I gone to defend...

"They press so high and we saw that, the central defenders, they are able to jam and then the space is on the outside.

"Gabriel is so quick and Riyad (Mahrez) can do it, and... in the last 20 minutes Raheem (Sterling) is so fast, too."

De Bruyne, meanwhile, admitted that City's players sometimes do not know how they are supposed to play until they take to the field.

He told BT Sport: "I think, the four years we're here with Pep, there are some surprises (within the squad). Even the players, they don't know before the game starts what they need to do."

Ex-City goalkeeper Joe Hart said his former team would have scored more, if not for Guardiola's unconventional tactics.

He told BT Sport: "I think a conventional City line-up beats that team by more goals, they were too strong when they stepped up in those stages. But, with Aguero and Sterling, they could do more damage."

Former Arsenal defender Martin Keown and his ex-Gunners boss Arsene Wenger, meanwhile, picked out Sterling as the catalyst for City's comeback.

His 74th-minute entrance saw him cause havoc on the left wing as Jesus moved to his natural position up front.

Football