Will Pep Guardiola’s funny ideas return when he thinks too much about the Manchester derby?

He may have a Carabao Cup quarter-final to manage tonight, but Pep Guardiola is already thinking about this weekend’s Manchester derby next.

“I have some ideas, thoughts – ridiculous against United – but still haven’t watched their last games,” Guardiola said in his latest press conference. “I have to see how they play at home and if they change anything. I still need to check it, I just don’t have a clear line…”. [yet] against United.

There’s one word that sticks out like a sore thumb in this quote: “Ridiculous.” Guardiola is no stranger to making unexpected inventive tactics and playing players out of position, so, for him, “ridiculous” sounds like a next level of insanity.

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What will we see when the champions travel to Old Trafford? Perhaps he will bring down Premier League top scorer Erling Haaland to prove once again that he doesn’t “need” a striker to win the title. Perhaps he will go in a different direction and play the Norwegian at left-back, as he did with Gabriel Jesus at the Santiago Bernabeu.

Perhaps his farcical plan will involve a formation change, away from the 4-3-3, as City look to exploit Manchester United’s waning weakness under Erik ten Hag. The Dutch boss should take those words as a major compliment for the job he has done so far. Usually at Old Trafford City show up, play their usual game and walk away with all three points. But now things have changed and United are once again among the top teams in the division.

But is this ‘ridiculous’ plan yet another prelude to Guardiola’s further musings? It’s something he’s even admitted to doing in the past. “In the Champions League I’m always overthinking, I’m always creating new tactics and ideas, and tomorrow you’ll see something new,” he said. “I think too much, really…”. [to say that]. That’s why I had such a good result in the Champions League. It would be boring, my job, if I had to win the same way all the time.

It’s true that his overthinking is only on display when City lose. This was never the result of poor player performance or individual error, but rather Guardiola’s tactical set-up. He didn’t receive much praise when his team won at Real Madrid with Jesus in an unusual role, but when he opted out of playing for CDM in the 2021 Champions League final, everything changed.

City were overwhelmed, and ended up losing 1-0 to Chelsea. After 61 games without Fernandinho or Rodri, Guardiola, in his desperation to do something different, probably lost the Champions League trophy to his team.

In the 2015 semi-final, when he was in charge of Bayern Munich, he returned to the Camp Nou with a desire to make a good impression. Facing Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar, he opted for aggressive man-to-man pressing, often leaving only three defenders against this attacking trio. It almost paid off, but in the end two goals from Messi and a third from Neymar earned the hosts a 3-0 win en route to the Champions League. Looking to score an away goal, Bayern threw away the draw.

A more recent Manchester City example was seen on Amazon Prime’s All or Nothing show. In the dressing room at Goodison Park, he thought only of the next Champions League match at Anfield.

“Liverpool’s strikers are great,” Guardiola told his coaching staff. “They scare me. They are dangerous, I really think. I have the impression that Salah will play forward. Salah will play as number 9 and Firmino will move to the wing. He comes here and Salah continues. Can’t cover our full-backs are their full-backs.”

Liverpool won that first leg 3-0, and it was over. Guardiola has been knocked out of the Champions League – again. It’s a competition that has haunted the greatest manager on the planet since leaving Barcelona. He still hasn’t won club football’s biggest prize without Messi, but domestically he is dominant.

Over the course of the league, these tactical quirks can be ironed out. But in one game, in a hostile environment, City have crumbled before. Old Trafford on Saturday will be just that. A derby game against a team in great form who will do anything to get the upper hand on their nearest rivals.

Guardiola is still thinking too much, and this time it could pay off for Manchester United.

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