In the press conference before the confrontation with Real in the second leg of the Champions League semi-finals, coach Pep Guardiola said that he had made a little adjustment for Man City to have a better performance than the first leg.
“Don’t worry, I don’t think much. That’s nothing special,” replied the 52-year-old captain when asked by a reporter what the adjustments were.
Only when the match took place did he fully understand Pep’s intentions. However, there is a tactical plan that The Guardian newspaper evaluates will not change on the Etihad side in the second leg. Walker is likely to continue to start and keep the task with Vinicius Junior.
In the first leg of the Champions League semi-final, Walker had the most successful duels (8), tackles (6) and clearances (5) the most in the Man City squad. During 90 minutes, the English defender was not passed by a single person. These stats are especially impressive when the 32-year-old star’s mission is to stop Vinicius on the right side of “The Citizens”.
In fact, the second half of this season hasn’t gone smoothly for Walker. After the World Cup in Qatar, coach Guardiola made a change in City’s tactical system with the switch from the familiar 4-3-3 to 3-2-4-1. There, Pep used four central defenders, one of which protruded to kick higher in the central midfield position next to Rodri.
This makes the full-backs in the Man City squad gradually lose their main kick position. The person in the same situation as Walker is Joao Cancelo. The Portuguese star wanted to play more and eventually had to leave on loan to Bayern Munich.
In early March, Walker was also involved in an embarrassing scandal. Security cameras clearly recorded the British defender appearing in a bar with friends. He gets drunk, undresses, touches and hugs women who aren’t his wife. Walker is at risk of being questioned by police for his rude behavior and faces a maximum sentence of two years in prison.
After that moment came mid-April, the 32-year-old started just one of City’s six games – the FA Cup quarter-final against Burnley. During that period, Walker was not allowed to play despite being on the bench in many important matches such as the second leg of the round of 16 and the first leg of the Champions League quarter-finals with RB Leipzig and Bayern respectively, or the 29th round of the Premier League with Liverpool.
Pep has no comment on Walker’s scandal, but in early April, he explained why the English right-back was often on the bench. The Spaniard admitted he changed direction to use a central defender in the right-back position, mainly John Stones. This position must be raised to play as a midfielder and Walker was judged by Pep to lack “vision and technique” to meet this requirement.
Walker looked like he’d lost the starting spot but instead of giving up, he made a comeback. The Man City star gradually reappeared in Premier League matches, including a 4-1 victory over Arsenal, and domestic cup competitions. There, it feels like Walker has never left Pep’s main team, he rarely misses the beat with his teammates.
Success in a direct confrontation with Vinicius in the first leg of the Champions League semi-final on May 10 is an affirmation of Walker’s return. The Man City star showed himself trying to adapt to Pep’s tactical changes and is likely to continue to be trusted in the second leg at the Etihad.
“Of course I am not satisfied when the coach (Pep – PV) is excluded from the starting line-up. I feel hurt when I have to be on the bench so often, I can’t lie. You start doubting yourself, wondering where you went wrong. You want to prove the coach wrong and that’s exactly what I did,” Walker frankly shared in a press conference before the match against Real in the second leg of the Champions League semi-final.
Man City rely on Walker
Currently, Vinicius is one of the best wingers in the world. The person who knows best the danger of the Brazilian player is none other than Walker’s juniors on the England team, Trent Alexander-Arnold and Reece James. Before clashing with Walker, Vinicius “tortured” the two players in turn in the quarter-finals and 16 of Europe’s most prestigious club tournament teams.
In the semi-final first leg on May 10, Walker did better than his two compatriots but still could not prevent Vinicius from making a beautiful long shot. However, if it weren’t for the English defender’s speed and strength in disputed situations, Man City would probably have been conceded more than once under the attacking power of Real’s strikers.
Before the second leg, Man City owns an impressive series of performances. In the Premier League, the Etihad Stadium team has just won their 11th consecutive victory to consolidate the top position. Broadly speaking, Man City owns a series of 22 consecutive unbeaten matches in all competitions.
The current Manchester green half has a chance of a treble, but that does not go smoothly. Before a sublimated Arsenal under coach Mikel Arteta – the club has led the Premier League 93% of the time this season, City still persisted in chasing and was about to create the biggest “subversion” in the history of the tournament.
Not only that, earlier this year, City also faced more than 100 allegations of breaking Premier League financial rules between 2009 and 2018. If proven guilty, the Etihad Stadium team can face many severe penalties such as demerit points, deprivation of the championship or even expulsion from the top division of England.
Despite many difficulties, Pep’s army remained steadfast towards the goal and continued to prove their bravery. Tomorrow morning (May 18), Man City entered one of the most important matches in the club’s history. The good performance in recent times combined with the reliable presence of Walker on the right wing is the basis for the Etihad Stadium team to overcome Real.
Minh To | 18:15 17/05/2023