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Paulo Fonseca: The teacher who failed an exam he already knew the answers

Shakhtar Boss Homework Fails Dramatically

Manchester City v FC Shakhtar Donetsk - UEFA Champions League Group F Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

As Manchester City prepared to face Shakhtar Donetsk in the reverse fixture of their Champions League meeting, the manager of the Ukrainian Premier League champions gave an interview on ESPN in which he detailed how to stop Pep Guardiola’s men.

Having faced the Sky Blues in the competition back-to-back for the last two seasons, the Portuguese manager felt he now knew how to nullify City’s marauding attack. Reading excerpts from the interview any manager out there could consider this a revelation from a man who should know.

Fonseca’s side defeated Man City 2-1 in Europe last term, although it was in a dead rubber match that Guardiola featured mostly reserve team players. But even in the first leg at the Etihad Stadium (with City at full strength) the Ukrainian side dominated possession, especially in the first half despite losing 2-0 in the end.

So despite leading his team to a 3-0 loss in their first meeting this season, the 45-year-old believed he had a formula that could stop Guardiola’s well-oiled machine.

When asked how he intended to stop City, he said:

“The basic philosophy is to keep our team high up the pitch but also very compact. I want the distance from my last defender to my furthest forward attacker to be short, and also the distance from one wing to the other. The idea is to be high and narrow, therefore compact, with a lot of density. That makes it more difficult for them to pass through us.

“At the same time, without pressing high and losing our shape, we need to ensure they don’t go deep because, as I said, they have a lot of quality and speed there.

“If we can do that, then we force their build-up play into wide areas. And that is where we can attack them and press and try to win it back. But it only works if we remain compact, with no space between the lines. It takes a lot of concentration, a lot of discipline and a lot of energy. Most of all, you have to read what they are going to do. It’s one of the most important thing I try to teach my players.”

Unfortunately for Fonseca, his tactics and strategies failed woefully. The Hirnyk failed to score a single goal against City over two legs and conceded nine. They had only 37% of the ball on Wednesday showing how much the Sky Blues have improved from last term.

The inexplicable loss to Olympique Lyonnais in the opening match of the competition remains City’s only loss this season. More of the kind of performance against Shakhtar in Europe this time around will mean the Cityzens can begin to dream.

Yes, top European sides like Real Madrid, Barcelona and Bayern Munich may be stronger than the Ukrainian club but Guardiola has shown this season that Man City are stronger and can adapt to the opposition in order to get the needed result.

The tactical masterpiece against Liverpool at Anfield earlier in the season is a case in point as only a Riyad Mahrez’ missed penalty prevented us from securing a deserved win.

When you consider the fact that Jurgen Klopp’s men have had the better of City in three consecutive games, putting an end to the losing run was a welcome development. It’s now time to focus on doing same on the continent, by putting an end to the trophy drought.