Déjà Vu for Manchester City
Saturday night’s Champions League quarter-final spelled out a familiar story for Pep Guardiola and Manchester City, as they exited the competition prematurely. Struan Garvie looks at what’s gone wrong for City in Europe recently.
Despite being the favourites to win the 2019/20 UEFA Champions League (UCL) Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City we defeated 3-1 by Lyon in the quarter finals. The stats suggested City dominated the game with 67% of the possession, amassing eight shots on target compared to Lyon’s six. However, City really did not perform to their usual standards. They missed some big chances, one howler in particular at a crucial point in the game and were often vulnerable when trying to defend. The pace of Lyon’s attack caused the City backline real trouble as has been the case so often has this season. City’s defence has been exposed on the counterattack quite often this season, notably against Wolves and Manchester United, who both secured wins home and away in the Premier League against the former champions.
After falling a goal behind, City were able to find the equaliser through Kevin De Bruyne after some clever work on the wing from Raheem Sterling. After this, it looked like City were going to prove too much for Lyon and move into the semi-finals. Unfortunately for Guardiola’s side, within 10 minutes of City equalising, Lyon were once again ahead through Moussa Dembélé. The goal was controversial to say the least, after it appeared that City defender Aymeric Laporte was fouled in the build-up. The Video Assistant Referee (VAR) did not give City the foul and thus, Lyon were back in front. Things got even worse for City when Sterling missed an open goal from only eight yards out as his shot flew over the bar. This proved to be incredibly costly as Lyon would then score in the 87th minute, only 59 seconds after Sterling’s miss.
This isn’t the first time City have experienced heartbreak in the UCL. In fact, it has happened frequently in recent years. Last season, VAR denied City a last-minute winner against Tottenham in the quarter final and subsequently, the club was eliminated. In the 2016/17 season, City were knocked out in the Round of 16 by Monaco on away goals, despite winning the first leg 5-3 – they went on to lose 3-1 in the second leg at the Stade Louis II.
At a domestic level, Guardiola has been immensely successful during his time at City. So far, in his four year stay at the club, he has won; two Premier League titles (including a record breaking 100-point season), one FA Cup, three League Cups and two Community Shields. Yet somehow, this side has never gotten past the quarter final stage in the UCL. Manuel Pellegrini took City to the semi-finals in 2016, only to be bested by eventual winners, Real Madrid.
So, where has it gone wrong for Guardiola and City in the UCL?
Guardiola has won the competition on two occasions in the past with Barcelona, in 2009 and 2011. This was one of the greatest teams of the past generation including players such as; Xavi, Carles Puyol, Andreas Iniesta and Lionel Messi. After his time at Barcelona, Guardiola moved to Bayern Munich, where he enjoyed a successful three-year stay winning three Bundesliga titles. Guardiola managed to take his team to the semi-finals of the UCL every year he spent in Germany, but couldn’t go one step further and reach the final.
It has now been almost 10 years since Guardiola’s last UCL title. Since then, he has struggled to even reach the final of the competition, despite managing two of the best sides in world football. It has now brought up as a criticism of Guardiola that he cannot win the competition unless he has Messi in his side.
This season looked like it was finally Guardiola’s time to win the trophy again. After beating Zinedine Zidane’s Real Madrid 4-2 over two legs, it seemed as though City were finally ready to get over this mental stumbling block and go the whole way. Sadly, the City of old returned to face Lyon. They struggled under the pressure and missed some good chances that, on any other night, they would put away.
A lot of credit, however, must be given to Lyon. Despite finishing seventh in their domestic league, Lyon were able to beat Juventus in the round of 16 of the UCL. Lyon were clear underdogs and many doubted they could even get out of the group stage, let alone get all the way to the semi-finals. Against City, they stuck to their game plan and knew when to hit on the break. Lyon’s semi-final opponent will be Bayern Munich, who put eight past Barcelona in their quarter final. Once again, Lyon will be considered the underdog but after beating Juventus and City, they will most certainly have belief.
For City, it is time to regroup and go again. In order to win back the Premier League title from Liverpool and challenge for the UCL, City will need to make some signings in the summer transfer market. They have already acquired two new players, Ferran Torres and Nathan Ake. However, this is unlikely to be their only business as they look to bring in a new central defender and another midfielder.
As for Guardiola…