Break in style as Guardiola and Simeone meet in the Champions League

Diego Simeone was working in Argentina in the early years of his coaching career when he asked to attend some training sessions in Barcelona then led by Pep Guardiola.

Barcelona was the pre-eminent club in world football, revolutionizing the game between 2008 and 2012 with their ‘Tiki-Taka’ passing style, favored by Guardiola and mastered by the likes of Andrés Iniesta and Xavi Hernández.

However, it was not for Simeone.

“We talked,” says Guardiola, “and he said to me: ‘I don’t like that. I don’t feel it.’”

A fierce and hardworking midfielder as a player, Simeone saw the beauty of football in a different way and should represent the opposite of Guardiola and his beautiful approach.

A change of style soon followed in Spain when Simeone returned to Europe to take charge of Atlético Madrid in 2011 – a few months after Barcelona had won the Champions League for a second time and in mesmerizing fashion.


More than a decade later, the two coaches are still at the top of the game, with Simeone still the embodiment of a resilient and uncompromising Atlético side and Guardiola now trying to turn football into an art form at Manchester City.

City and Atlético go head-to-head in the Champions League quarter-finals on Tuesday – a competitive debut between the sides, if not the men, who lead them.

Considering that Guardiola and Simeone are two of the most famous current coaches in the sport, the fact that they have only faced each other three times is as surprising as it is refreshing.

The last was in the Champions League in 2016, when Atlético eliminated Guardiola’s prized side Bayern Munich on away goals after two hard-fought matches in the semi-finals. It’s one of Guardiola’s many painful exits from the Champions League since his last title in 2011.

The only other time Guardiola and Simeone faced each other was in February 2012, a few months before Guardiola left Barcelona. The Catalan team won 2-1 in the Spanish league.


One goal was the difference in all three games. Expect more of the same next week, even if City start as favourites.

“It will be difficult to impose our game on them,” Guardiola said of Atlético.

He has used Atlético’s elimination of Manchester United in the Round of 16 as a guide to what the team should expect.

“In the first 15-20 minutes against United, United couldn’t breathe,” said Guardiola.

And it’s that ability to frustrate that sets Atlético apart. Even if this is achieved through often perceived unsportsmanlike tactics that have infuriated opposing coaches and players over the years.

“It’s frustrating at times,” Liverpool defender Andrew Robertson said of Atlético in 2020 when his side were eliminated by the Spanish club, “but it’s not going to change.”

There was a time, particularly in the 2020/21 season, when Simeone tried to make Atlético a more attacking team, using the qualities of forwards like Luis Suárez and João Félix.


When push comes to shove, Simeone usually reverts to his more destructive and pragmatic game plan and that will likely be seen at City’s Etihad Stadium on Tuesday.

As for Guardiola, he’s committed to his possession-based philosophy.

“Cholo’s teams will play the way he wants,” Guardiola once said, referring to Simeone’s nickname, “and my teams will play the way I want.”

That’s what makes the forthcoming doubles game between the reigning English and Spanish champions so intriguing.


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Dais Johnston

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