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UEFA Champions League

Pep Guardiola vs. Thomas Tuchel: The Champions League final pits football's "chess grandmasters"

On the squad bus during Thomas Tuchel's first senior football job at Mainz, the German coach was watching a video about Pep Guardiola when he abruptly interrupted it. On the screen, a graph depicting Barcelona's pass patterns appeared.

Former Schalke official Christian Heidel adds, "To everybody else, it just appeared like a knitting weave." It was a gold mine of information for Tuchel. For two hours, the screen remained paused. Tuchel studied the graph for an hour and a half.

When Guardiola learned that Bayern Munich technical director Michael Reschke was meeting Tuchel for dinner in 2014, it's easy to see why he insisted on accompanying him. Guardiola had noticed something special in the young German coach, who was on sabbatical at the time.

Reschke told The Independent, "Pep doesn't just want to meet anyone in football." “Thomas gave him a bad vibe.”

Guardiola gushed over Reschke, saying, "This is an interesting young coach." “He has a thought.”

When they finally met, they exchanged brief greetings and both guys inquired about the other's family. It was straight into football after both declared them to be "OK." For a long time. And into the smallest of details.

Tuchel had naturally traveled to Camp Nou five years prior to see Guardiola's Barcelona and began questioning him about individual minutes of play as well as very detailed decisions made by the Catalan. The impact of Cesc Fabregas' arrival on the team, as well as Lionel Messi's role, was of special importance. Guardiola was more than willing to delve into it. The conversation evolved into a detailed and animated discussion of how to create space on a pitch in specific situations. It came down to milliseconds of play time and millimetres of pitch distance.

Reschke says, "I was just sitting there in shock." “Like Garry Kasparov and Anatoly Karpov, it was incredible.”

In many ways, it was a meeting of minds. They just happened to be two of the modern game's most obsessive thinkers. They are truly obsessive-compulsive.

Many individuals who know Guardiola claim that the only time he truly disconnects from football is when he insists on turning off his phone while golfing. The course is the one area where he is sufficiently absorbed in something other than the game. He's always on, right down to badgering the personnel at Manchester City's training complex's canteen.

Tuchel appears to have a broader range of interests, considering his background as a cocktail mixologist, but he is essentially the same.

Heidel explains, "He thinks about football 24 hours a day, seven days a week." “His typical work day is out of the ordinary. We're talking about true football aficionados.”

But this is about more than the eccentricities of two obsessed men. The fact that they will meet again in club football's most important match demonstrates how this intense mentality has progressively taken over the best level of the game. It isn't precisely nerd revenge, as Tuchel puts it, but it is a reflection of how a higher level of thought leads to a higher level of performance.

Some managers may undoubtedly beat them in a single match - or even over a short period of time - but if they can't equal them in terms of preparation for every square metre of the pitch, the gaps will only widen over time. Simply put, there is less room for error.

This level of concentration necessarily leads to more creativity. After all, that is where innovation usually comes from. A better awareness of the game's complexities encourages the ability to recognize something new and the confidence to try it.

“These coaches have a better ability to read the game,” Reschke explains. “They see things that you and I don't. They have a more in-depth understanding. It's similar to chess grandmasters.”

This can be seen in Guardiola's teams' one-of-a-kind spectacle. Wayne Rooney recently informed Jamie Carragher that there were just two moments on the pitch when he was unsure of what he needed to do. One occurred in the 2011 Champions League final versus Barcelona, which was one of Guardiola's best performances.

The other was a 100-point season for Manchester City in 2017-18, one of Guardiola's most memorable seasons. It was as if the Catalan teams were always one step ahead of you, throwing passes that would open you up three steps down the line. Meanwhile, Heidel emphasizes how opponents in the Bundesliga "hated" face Tuchel's teams.

It's even been dubbed the "NFL-ization" of football. The game is now far more meticulously constructed than it was even a decade ago. The maxim of Bill Shankly is no longer valid. Football is becoming a more complex game, enriched by "geniuses," rather than a basic one complicated by idiots. It naturally appeals to individuals who worry over even the tiniest detail.

Much of this stems from Guardiola's tactical progression at Barcelona, which he started.

"I believe Pep created a new concept of football 10 years ago," Reschke claims. "That was the most important effect on football in the last 30 years; all of the brilliant young coaches - Julian Nagelsmann, Thomas Tuchel - are impacted by him, and you can see it in England as well."

Advances in sports science and analytics gradually supplemented Guardiola's possession-pressing game. They resulted in a significant improvement in team preparation. From pressing to attacking, all of this combined to make football immensely more coordinated.

For the most of modern football's history, defending had to be predictable and organized, whereas attacking play had to be freeform in order to stimulate creativity. Another aspect that has been flipped on its head by coaches such as Guardiola is the use of color.

Fabregas recently told the Wall Street Journal that it wasn't until Antonio Conte took over at Chelsea in 2016 that he realized the exact scope of the problem.

“It was more along the lines of, 'You have to do what I say.' You'll do it, and we'll keep repeating it for months until you do it right.' And we'll pretend to be a mechanized robot. It's possible to play with your eyes closed. The ball is passed to you, and you know what you need to do since your partner will arrive at precisely the appropriate moment and place.”

Tuchel isn't a carbon copy, but he's on the same path. During one of Chelsea's press conferences, the German said how his strategy is to put in place a system that finally allows players to express "their creativity." Almost everything is planned out until the final decision is made.

Tuchel added, "It's just to give opportunity, and from the possibilities, it's the players' free choice." Guardiola has adopted this strategy as well, as his own style has grown since Barcelona.

Reschke agrees that football has progressed. “It's similar to American football now, with dedicated coaches. Okay, it's not quite the same, but it's getting there. Football has progressed to a new level. This is a terrific level. You'll need coaches who can read games and present solutions to teams. As more trainers devise unique strategies, success becomes more reliant on minor details.”

Tuchel screams at players when they are a metre out of position for this reason. It can mean the difference between a successful one-on-one defense session and a disaster. This is the point at which tactical methods that push the boundaries necessitate players pushing their own boundaries.

This is a man who has been known to go down on his knees before training sessions, not just to measure the grass, but also to “sniff” it, according to Heidel. Tuchel's optimal length is 2.7 centimetres, which allows for easier rapid passing.

It's difficult to reconcile such obsessiveness with other aspects of the game, such as great managers like Zinedine Zidane's nebulous references to "enjoying the ball."

“There are a lot of aspects in football because it is played by humans, but it is remarkable that teams like Juventus and Chelsea have just gone for former players like Andrea Pirlo or Frank Lampard,” one official who has worked at a top club argues. “Who knows if they're even capable of doing it? The game has progressed far beyond discussions of mind and experience. It's far more advanced than it's ever been.”

Much of this is seen on the practice field. That is where games are truly won and lost, to a considerably greater extent than ever before. That is the only way for players to truly understand and internalize the complex strategies used by coaches like Tuchel and Guardiola. It's for this reason that many in the game believe Chelsea will be particularly dangerous next season, given Tuchel's ample preparation time.

It may possibly address their creative problems, as the players gain a better understanding of how the Germans combine communal rigor with individual liberty.

"What we strive to apply in training is a mix of respecting your zone and having a structure, and then the freedom for the creativity, the quality, and the intuition of players," Tuchel remarked in February. That's a never-ending mix.”

According to captain Cesar Azpilicueta, Tuchel is constantly "demanding." Cesar Azpilicueta says, "Training is really particular." “When a player is out of position, his emphasis is on every action."

Tuchel, on the other hand, is said to be more "relaxed" than Guardiola in this area. The Catalan sessions are said to be innovative, but it's the manic intensity that really elevates them.

Three players, for example, stand in a column but move along rows at the same time while passing to each other in one drill. The concept is that the ball will always move at the same speed between them. That's alright as long as the speed isn't too fast. Guardiola does not want it that way.

There are a few popular refrains heard on the practice field. “No, no, no!” exclaims the speaker. The ball is always moving, and it never stops! ”

"It would give you a headache," one training ground source said. This is why many people believe Guardiola's intensity has a finite effect, as they did at City earlier this season. Players, on the other hand, continue to invest when they witness amazing outcomes.

“After a year of Pep, Joshua Kimmich informed me that he would be scared before every training session,” Reschke says. “He understands the importance of staying focused. There isn't any idle chit-chat. Everything is on point when you train with Pep. He demonstrates how to pass, how to stand when receiving a pass... he simply opens your football door. The distinction is in the details.”

These two have more in common than nearly everyone else in football. That was evident to Reschke at that Munich meeting, to Heidel on that bus, and to a large number of players in other training sessions.

It will now be viewed by the entire world in Porto, where the magnitude of the occasion will only drive Tuchel and Guardiola to pay even more attention to the smallest of details. It will decide the Champions League this season, but it has already decided the game's future.

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Content created and supplied by: ROLEXSTORMZY (via Opera News )

Bayern Munich Christian Heidel Michael Reschke Pep Guardiola Thomas Tuchel


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