Hoffenheim coach Julian Nagelsmann is plotting to outsmart his idol Pep Guardiola when Manchester City attempt to get their Champions League campaign back on track by winning in Germany on Tuesday (at 11:55 Cambodian time).
At 31, Nagelsmann is the youngest coach in Champions League history, and admits to being a a keen student of Guardiola’s methods.
Now he hopes to thwart the Spanish master tactician in Hoffenheim’s first home Champions League match in the club’s history.
“I don’t know if it it’s always an advantage to know Pep Guardiola, because then you know that he is doing so much the right way or the best way,” said Nagelsmann. “It’s not very easy to say exactly how he will set his team.
“He has different ways to play against different opponents. You can see a lot of similarities in his style, but also see a lot of differences. As I said, it’s not easy to approach his style of play, but I have a few ideas.”
In Sinsheim, City will be aiming to bounce back from their shock 2-1 loss at home to Lyon in their first Group F game. Hoffenheim drew their opener 2-2 at Shakhtar Donetsk.
City beat Brighton 2-0 at home at the weekend to go top of the Premier League, but Hoffenheim’s form is far shakier as they suffered their third defeat in six Bundesliga games on Saturday, losing 2-1 at home to RB Leipzig, who the ambitious Nagelsmann will coach next season.
In at the deep end
This is the first time Nagelsmann will go head-to-head with Guardiola, who coached Bayern Munich to three consecutive Bundesliga titles from 2013 to 2016 before joining City.
There are elements to Nagelsmann’s aggressive style with Hoffenheim which echo that of Guardiola, whose City team also like to press their opponents in their own half.
Neither is afraid to take risks in selection or switch tactics mid-match.
Nagelsmann became a rising star in German football when he was thrust from coaching Hoffenheim’s under-19 team to being tasked with maintaining the senior team in the Bundesliga.
He was just 29 in February 2016 when he took charge of Hoffenheim – a Bundesliga record for a permanent head coach – with the team second from bottom.
He only gained his coaching licence a month after his appointment, but the precarious situation did not faze the self-confident Nagelsmann.
The former defender forged a strong team spirit, turning Hoffenheim from relegation contenders to Champions League qualifiers within two seasons.
Despite his youth, Nagelsmann is streetwise with his answers in press conferences and carefully cultivates his public image.
his playing career was wrecked by a knee injury in 2008 while playing for Augsburg’s reserves, aged just 20.
Current Paris Saint Germain boss Thomas Tuchel, who was coaching one of Augsburg’s junior teams at the time, spotted his potential and had Nagelsmann scout future opponents.
He joined Hoffenheim in 2010 as assistant coach of the club’s Under-17 team, later coaching the Under-19 team to the 2014 national age-group title when he was less than 10 years older than his players.
Nagelsmann was born in the Bavarian town of Landsberg am Lech and before it was announced this June that he will coach RB Leipzig from 2019-20, the German media saw him as a Bayern Munich coach in waiting.
He fanned the flames last year by revealing he has had a house built in Munich, where his wife’s parents live, and stated “FC Bayern is a big part of my dream”.
For now, the dream is getting one over on Guardiola. AFP City’s cross-town rivals United are also in Champions League action on Tuesday night, at home to Valencia at 2am Cambodian time.