Pep Guardiola 'playing £31.5m mind games with Chelsea' to finally bury Champions League demons - Ross Jackson

Manchester|January 14, 2022

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You could wake up tomorrow morning, pick a footballer's name out of a hat and tell your mate that your club is interested in signing them, and the next thing you know Twitter will be awash with fans claiming they've just seen said player at the Bargain Booze next to their cousin's house.

That might sound a little far-fetched and, granted, some of the rumours of course turn out to be true. But we can only assume the above scenario is exactly how Antonio Rudiger ended up being linked with a move to Manchester City.

C'mon, admit it, who's been at the random-player-and-club-transfer-rumour generator? Probably needs a catchier name than that but it's a working title.

The German defender's talks over a new deal at Chelsea have seemingly reached an impasse, despite Thomas Tuchel's staunch denial that he will leave Stamford Bridge in the summer.

Speculation over Rudiger's potential next destination has become a fixture on the back pages, with transfer guru Gianluca Di Marzio now tipping City to make a move for the 28-year-old, who's currently valued at 31.5m by Transfermarkt.

There's no doubting that Rudiger is a top-class defender in the right system, though the latter part of that statement tells you all you need to know about the links with City.

Antoni-no thanks

Tuchel's trademark back-three affords Rudiger the licence to plough forward from his left centre-back role like a FIFA 99 figure, burying his chin into his chest and just sprinting forward in a straight line.

While Pep Guardiola has adopted a similar system at times during his City reign (stop it, stop thinking about the Lyon game now!), his preferred system of a back-four doesn't offer his centre-backs such free rein.

Sure, John Stones, Ruben Dias and Aymeric Laporte can all step into midfield as comfortably as Pep no doubt slips into his designer slippers of an evening. But why, when City have some of the most accomplished, wily and talented midfielders in Europe at their disposal, would Guardiola want to bypass the likes of Bernardo Silva and Kevin De Bruyne as fast as possible?

Not only would Rudiger likely struggle to produce his best football in Guardiola's system, but his tendency to produce erratic challenges for no apparent reason would make Pep tear his... erm, well it would make him very angry.

Such shortcomings can be masked with two centre-backs alongside him at Chelsea, but he would not be afforded such a luxury at City.

Add the above to his expected hefty salary demands and you can forget about seeing the Germany international in a Didsbury butchers anytime soon.

Pep vs Tuchel kicks off early?

Of course, there's also the very real possibility to consider that Guardiola is toying with his opposite number ahead of Saturday's mouthwatering clash with Chelsea.

After all, what better way to set the cat among the pigeons ahead of a potentially season-defining game than to claim you want to sign one of the opposition's most important players?

Defeat for City on Saturday is likely to be viewed as nothing more than a minor blip. Defeat for Chelsea will see the thread their title challenge is currently hanging by give way.

Few could have envisaged such a scenario little more than seven months ago on that fateful night in Porto.

Chelsea's incredible four-month transformation under Tuchel and Guardiola's penchant for self-sabotage in Europe's premier competition stole the headlines, meaning the former's incredible record against Guardiola was only truly recognised once the dust had settled.

Chelsea's Champions League triumph over City saw Tuchel mastermind a third consecutive victory over Guardiola's side in the space of 6 weeks, leading some to naively proclaim the Catalan tactician had met his match.

The most resounding 1-0 win you are ever likely to witness at Stamford Bridge earlier this season buried such a theory, and City's apparent 'interest' in Rudiger just days prior to the resumptions of the pair's rivalry is just the latest indication that Pep has nothing to fear.

Chelsea fans would love to paint a picture of Pep furiously scribbling on his tactics board at 3am, five Red Bulls deep as he does everything he can to finally overcome his managerial kryptonite. That couldn't be further from the truth.

If I had to hazard a guess, I'd say he's far more likely to be sat at home with a cigar hanging out of the side of his mouth as he ponders which Chelsea player he's going to claim he wants to sign tomorrow.

Naturally, the Rudiger rumours probably have absolutely nothing to do with Pep - he's far too cool to engage in such frivolity - but the point stands that Guardiola managed to shatter this illusion that Tuchel had his number in the space of 90 minutes earlier this season.

Just like you, we cant get enough of Manchester City! Thats why weve decided to supplement our expansive City coverage on the Manchester Evening News with a more fan-oriented platform catered specifically to City fans - City Is Ours.

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City's Champions League final defeat to Chelsea back in May will never not hurt, but September's Stamford Bridge becalming of Tuchel's side went some way towards accelerating the healing process.

A similar performance this weekend at the Etihad Stadium will banish those demons even further and, by three o'clock on Saturday afternoon, the big questions may well revolve around how Tuchel is ever going to mastermind a big win over Pep again.

Do you think there's any truth in the rumours linking City with Rudiger? Follow City Is Ours content editor Ross Jackson on Twitter to get involved in the discussion and give us your thoughts in the comments section below.

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