It must have been an extraordinary sight. Pep Guardiola and Thomas Tuchel politely asking fellow diners for their salt and pepper shakers before frantically moving them about on their table in an explosion of tactical nerdery.
Yet that apparently happened when these two deep-thinking football managers met in a Munich restaurant about six years ago. Guardiola was manager of Bayern Munich at the time, Tuchel in between jobs at Mainz and Borussia Dortmund.
What’s for certain is that each part of the cruet, like the players they manage, was expected to fully understand its role within the team and give everything for the collective cause. No salty slackers or peppery prima donnas.
There is a warm mutual respect and friendship between Pep Guardiola (left) and Thomas Tuchel (right) from their time as rival managers in Germany’s Bundesliga
Tuchel took charge of both Mainz and Borussia Dortmund during the three seasons Guardiola was in charge at Bayern Munich
This meeting of minds illustrates the pair’s mutual respect, something that didn’t diminish even when Dortmund threatened to steal Bayern’s Bundesliga crown the following season.
Manchester City manager Guardiola had warm words of welcome for Tuchel when he arrived in the Premier League with Chelsea back in January.
‘He’s an exceptional manager so I’m pretty sure he’ll have success. He’s a friend of mine and I’m happy to see him,’ Guardiola said.
That good feeling was reciprocated in an interview Tuchel gave not long after his arrival at Stamford Bridge.
Speaking about his managerial influences, the German reeled off Louis van Gaal’s Ajax, Johan Cruyff’s Barcelona and Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal. But special praise was reserved for Guardiola’s exceptional Barcelona team.
‘They taught me everything about this game, that you can play nice [football] and you can win everything,’ Tuchel said.
When he arrived at Chelsea, Tuchel made no secret of his admiration for Guardiola’s Barcelona
Guardiola celebrates as Manchester City secured their passage to the Champions League semi-finals after a 4-2 win on aggregate over Borussia Dortmund
‘Pep has been a big, big influence. I have the feeling that every time I watch a game from him, I can learn something about football and I can learn something new.’
It echoed the kind words Tuchel uttered when they were both in the Bundesliga: ‘Guardiola is the best, even if he doesn’t like to admit it.
‘His time at Barcelona really left a lasting impression on me. As a fan I learned so much. Barcelona under Pep was the benchmark for me.’
But their friendship will have to be put on hold this Saturday evening when they go head-to-head for the sixth time overall and the first time in English football.
Much is on the line as Chelsea and Manchester City contest the FA Cup semi-final at Wembley. History beckons for Guardiola and City, with this another hurdle to be cleared en route to a Quadruple of Premier League, FA Cup, Carabao Cup and Champions League never previously achieved by an English team.
The two bosses hard at work on the touchline as Bayern play Dortmund in the 2016 cup final
Guardiola lifts the trophy after Bayern beat Dortmund 4-3 on penalties after a goalless draw
TUCHEL V GUARDIOLA
October 19, 2013 – Bayern Munich 4-1 Mainz (Bundesliga)
March 22, 2014 – Mainz 0-2 Bayern Munich (Bundesliga)
October 4, 2015 – Bayern Munich 5-1 Borussia Dortmund (Bundesliga)
March 5, 2016 – Borussia Dortmund 0-0 Bayern Munich (Bundesliga)
May 21, 2016 – Bayern Munich 0-0 Borussia Dortmund (after extra time; 4-3 pens; German Cup final)
For Tuchel, victory would wreck City’s dream and also confirm Chelsea’s impressive progress in such a short space of time since he succeeded the sacked Frank Lampard at the beginning of the year.
With all due respect to Leicester City and Southampton, whoever wins this semi-final will be strong favourites to lift the old trophy and it would be a tremendous start for Tuchel, especially with Champions League aspirations still burning.
But his record against Guardiola doesn’t inspire too much confidence at first glance – four defeats and one draw from those previous five meetings in Germany and a couple of pretty heavy ones to boot.
However, two of those defeats came when Tuchel was manager of Mainz, the unglamorous club he guided to impressive finishes of fifth and seventh in the Bundesliga during five years in charge.
A 4-1 defeat at the Allianz Arena and 2-0 loss at home to Guardiola’s Bayern during season 2013-14 was to be expected against opponents who won the title by 19 points.
Tuchel did get it wrong on a visit to Munich as Dortmund manager in October 2015, however, going down 5-1 before a goalless draw in the March return game at the Westfalenstadion.
But Dortmund did manage to push Bayern a little closer that season, ultimately finishing 10 points behind the champions but a whopping 18 ahead of third-placed Bayer Leverkusen.
Dortmund striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang fires in a shot during the goalless draw against Bayern in March 2016
Thomas Muller celebrates scoring for Bayern in their 5-1 win over Dortmund in October 2015
‘He did an incredible job, the way Dortmund played that season was outstanding. We fought a lot at Bayern Munich to win that title,’ was Guardiola’s recollection of the season prior to his arrival at City.
It was similarly tight when the two sides met in that season’s German Cup final in Berlin. Goalless after 120 minutes, Bayern prevailed 4-3 on penalties after Sven Bender and Sokratis failed to score.
But those meetings were certainly an education for Tuchel, who at 47 is three years Pep’s junior. Certainly with Mainz, who were never expected to beat Bayern, it was an opportunity for tactical experimentation.
In the pair’s first meeting in 2013, Tuchel sent his team out in a narrow and hard-pressing 5-4-1 formation which made it exceedingly difficult even for the likes of Toni Kroos, Bastian Schweinsteinger and Philipp Lahm to break through.
Bayern kept running into roadblocks, were forced into wide positions and actually fell behind before half-time. It was only after the break that Arjen Robben, Thomas Muller and Mario Mandzukic got the necessary service in attack.
Guardiola’s Bayern had to come from behind to beat Tuchel’s Mainz 4-1 in October 2013
Bayern needed 82 minutes to break down Tuchel’s Mainz side in a March 2014 meeting
The tactically dexterous Tuchel went with a 4-2-3-1 formation in the return match in March 2014, keeping the champions-elect at bay until the 82nd minute.
The 4-3-1-2 set-up Tuchel opted for in his first visit to Munich as Dortmund manager in October 2015 was conservative and didn’t work at all in a 5-1 drubbing.
He’d made more a mark on his team by the March and the goalless draw was a marked improvement after he went out with a more adventurous 4-3-3.
By contrast, Tuchel’s tactics with Chelsea have been pretty settled, with three at the back and wing-backs the order of the day.
They can call upon a resoluteness in defence brought by the manager and plenty of spark in attack and will certainly trouble City.
And even if Chelsea manage to end City’s Quadruple dream, there will be a warm handshake and embrace between two old friends afterwards. Maybe even a tactical debrief making use of the empty glasses of a nice vintage.