KEIR RADNEDGE REPORTS: Last season two English clubs contested the Champions League final. This season none have even reached the semi-finals after Manchester City’s 3-1 quarter-final exit to underrated Lyon in Lisbon.
The last four will thus witness two Franco-German duels. Paris Saint-Germain face RB Leipzig on Tuesday and Lyon play their outsiders’ card again against Bayern Munich on Wednesday.
Seven months after Brexit this ironic symbolism of the power shift in European club football will not go unremarked.
However the reality of a shattering blow to City pride was that, on the night, they failed to produce the A-game which has raised so much silverware in four years under Pep Guardiola.
He said: “One day we will break this gap to the semis. The second half was OK – we were there. I had a feeling we were better. We did a lot of good things, but it wasn’t enough. We made mistakes in the boxes in key moments.
“We are disappointed so now we go on holidays. Then we have to lift the players when they return to the club again.”
The tie turned on a burst of end-to-end drama in the 10 minutes leading up to full-time.
Lyon had snatched a breakaway lead through Maxwel Cornet after 24 minutes and City levelled through Kevin de Bruyne in the 69th. Barely noticed amid the exchange of substitutes Lyon coach Rudi Garcia sent on Moussa Dembele.
The ex-Celtic man had barely joined the action when he burst away from the halfway line to slip a goal-bound shot between the legs of keeper Ederson. The game had been at City’s mercy. Now the tables had been turned again.
Eight more minutes and Dembele struck Lyon’s killing third goal after a handling blunder by Ederson.
City claimed that Dembele’s crucial first goal should have been disallowed either for an offside call or a tangle of legs from which Dembele sprinted clear of Aymeric Laporte.
Unfortunately, just as in last season’s quarter-final against Tottenham, the VAR decision went against City and, hence, so did the tie.
As soon as Dutch referee Danny Makkelie blew the final whistle City fans renewed their seasons-long social media assault on UEFA over imaginary bias by the European federation.
No truth here though, unfair as it was on Lyon, the ‘big story’ was not the triumph of the underdogs but the felling of the giants.
Aside from personal sympathies for their distraught individual players, few tears will be shed across the continent for City the club.
The Abu Dhabi owners have spent record-breaking zillions in pursuit of a financial short-cut to European glory. But financial doping plus the recent obstructive approach to financial fair play controversy left them few friends.
That was unfortunate for fine players such as Sterling, De Bruyne and the injury-absented Sergio Aguero.
Not that Lyon care.
Garcia said: “I am proud of my players. We believed in ourselves, we knew we were played against a big team, that we were not favorites. Winning was first and foremost down to our collective spirit.”
Lyon certainly have City’s number. Last season they took a win and a draw off them in the group stage. They are secure, smart and savvy and will not be a Barcelona-type walkover for Bayern in the semi-finals.