Richard Buxton: Time for Pep to tinker and show his mettle
After losing thrice to Tuchel's Chelsea this year, City boss must get it right this time
Pep Guardiola continues to exhibit all the classic signs of a tortured genius.
Winning alone does not appear to be enough to sate the Manchester City manager; he still finds new and inventive ways to pick fault with his side's greatest achievements.
A never-ending pursuit of perfection often drives the Catalan into pernickety territory.
Overthinking remains his biggest flaw, typified by last season's Champions League final loss to Chelsea.
Needlessly tinkering with a trusted line-up threw away Guardiola's best shot at again lifting the trophy both he and the reigning EPL champions crave most.
In Porto, he changed the starting XI to the point of gifting Thomas Tuchel's side the freedom to dictate the midfield battle.
But this time around, Guardiola will need to tinker and make sure that his changes work at Stamford Bridge tomorrow.
Injuries have already begun to accumulate at the Etihad Stadium, with a trio of players who started the showpiece of Europe's elite club competition in May facing layoffs.
Centre-backs John Stones and Aymeric Laporte are expected to miss the next fortnight, while Ilkay Guendogan, Rodri and Oleksandr Zinchenko are all doubts for the trip to the English capital after sitting out last weekend's home stalemate against Southampton.
Losing potentially three defensive options is less-than-ideal preparation for taking on the current leaders and scorers of the second-highest number of set-piece goals this term.
Yet more than a selection headache preoccupies Guardiola ahead of his latest visit to the Bridge.
It was the scene of a tactical triumph after his Barcelona team reached the 2009 Champions League final courtesy of a last-gasp equaliser,which helped them to pip the hosts on the away-goals' rule.
This contest has, across recent seasons, developed into a bellwether of the EPL title's destination ever since Jose Mourinho's "little horses" snatched the spoils at the Etihad in 2014.
That spurred their hosts on to win 10 of their remaining 14 league games, pipping Liverpool in a seesaw battle for supremacy.
A win for Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, three years later, nudged Antonio Conte's charges towards the crown - before City served notice on retaining the title in 2019 with an emphatic six-goal rout that extended Anfield's already lengthy domestic drought by a further 12 months.
Juergen Klopp enjoyed the last laugh after the Blues edged out his closest challengers at the Bridge in June 2020, which helped the Reds to finally clinch the holy grail, as the Covid-19 pandemic raged.
On a personal level, too, Guardiola knows this is a must-win encounter for reasons beyond ensuring the Etihad's trophy cabinet does not lose a current piece of silverware.
From winning none of his previous five meetings with Guardiola's Bayern Munich in all competitions to claiming his first three after becoming Chelsea boss, Tuchel has become the Spaniard's latest bete noire.
A quadruple of defeats at the hands of his one-time Bundesliga adversary would further compound a difficult situation - one which has been partially self-inflicted - for the 50-year-old Catalan.
His criticism of City's match-going support for failing to pack their Champions League opener with RB Leipzig was difficult for many to stomach as a throwaway remark in the heat of the moment.
His subsequent doubling down then left a sour taste.
Tomorrow offers Guardiola the chance to seek genuine redemption for that public outburst and prove that his side have what it takes to retain their crown.
Another miscalculation, off the pitch or on it, will only lead to increasing doubts.
Tuchel's Chelsea v City
April 17: FA Cup semi-finals
Chelsea 1 Man City 0
May 8: EPL
Man City 1 Chelsea 2
May 29: Champions League final
Man City 0 Chelsea 1