For the First Time
January 09, 2024
Top managers try things in the biggest of games. In the Copa del Ray Final against Barcelona in 2010/11, Jose Mourinho benched all three of his number 9s Adebayor, Benzema, and Higuaín to play Cristiano Ronaldo as the number 9 for the first time.
We had one of the best players in football: Cristiano Ronaldo.
Ronaldo used to play as a winger. He was a tricky winger, fast, dribble. But sometimes you have to move the pieces of the chess to try to create the best solution for the team.
The first time that Ronaldo played as a number 9 position was in a Cup Final against Barcelona.
We had three number 9s (Emmanuel Adebayor, Karim Benzema, Gonzalo Higuaín) and for the final, I left all three out to play Cristiano as a number 9. Because in that game, the Barcelona right-back was Daniel Alves. That was attacking, attacking, attacking hundreds of times during the game.
If Ronaldo played against him, he would be chasing him. All the time playing more defensive than offensive, so I decided, no, you are not going to chase anyone. You are going to play number 9. You are going to play central. You are going just to try to score goals.”
Jose put Ángel Di María on the left-wing to attack, cross, and preoccupy Dani Alves while Ronaldo fully focused on scoring goals central. Genius.
“He scored the winning goal, incredible header, and we won the cup.”
This immediately reminded me of last season’s match between Manchester City and Arsenal on matchweek 33, pivotal because it was the final meeting between the two in the Premier League. That match could have determined the title; it was that close. And Pep Guardiola decides to play Manuel Akanji on the left for the first time:
The combination of Walker, Stones, Akanji and Dias has not been used by Man City since switching to a three-at-the-back structure this season. They left Aymeric Laporte on the bench, the regular backup to Nathan Ake at left-back and left center-back.
I have a theory why this was tested.
With Nathan Ake injured, this could potentially be the backline City use when they face Real Madrid in the Champions League semi-final match on May 9th. Pep needed a strong opponent to test this lineup for the first time to get a good sample to see if it would work.
Kyle Walker at right-back will mark Vinicus Junior, and Manuel Akanji will mark Rodrygo at left-back. That’s likely what will happen. Akanji versus Vinicus Junior was always going to be a mismatch for speed; Walker is a logical choice due to his pace, paired with John Stones at right center-back to double-team Vinicus. Ruben Dias at left centre-back would likely mark Karim Benzema. Today was the first trial.
Not only did they beat Arsenal, he then used that same back-four again against Real Madrid, like I said he might.
Win, and you lift the trophy. Lose, and you are overthinking. Watch for the risks that are taken.
Match: Real Madrid 1-0 Barcelona, 20 April 2011.