KEIR RADNEDGE REPORTS: Manchester City’s failure, yet again, to reap Champions League reward from their multi-billion investment in pursuit of club football’s greatest prize was no accident.
Fans hit social media after the final whistle of the 3-1 quarter-final defeat by Lyon in Lisbon to point fingers of blame at VAR – like last season against Tottenham at the same stage – Raheem Sterling for missing an open goal and UEFA in general for the distraction of a financial fair play storm.
This has been a weird season because of the pandemic interruption but it was the same for Lyon. Indeed, coach Rudi Garcia’s players had enjoyed far less match practice than City because of the early French shutdown.
Instead the focus of the post-mortem will be directed at Pep Guardiola. He was the master coach who was considered the missing piece in the City jigsaw being built by the club’s Abu Dhabi owners.
Yet in seven seasons with FC Bayern and Manchester City, with money and resources which are the envoy of every other manager in world football, Guardiola has repeatedly failed to deliver in the one arena which matters the most.
is job is secure. After all, Guardiola has triumphed repeatedly in Premier League, FA Cup and League Cup. But in Europe he is clearly fallible. He over-thinks, with fatal consequences.
City were favourites not only to reach only a second Champions League semi-final but, perhaps, for Guardiola to reclaim the trophy for the first time since 2011 with Barcelona.
Given City’s talent, a simple match plan should have been sufficient for the task in hand. Yet Guardiola offered Lyon too much respect.
He started with creative players such as Riyad Mahrez, David Silva and Bernardo Silva all on the bench and deployed a cautious 3-4-2-1 formation. This featured transfer-seeking Eric García in the centre of the backline and Ilkay Gündogan alongside Rodri in central midfield.
It did not work. Gabriel Jesus, at centre-forward for the injured Sergio Aguero, was starved of service; Sterling was abandoned to individual forays; and Kevin de Bruyne wasted all the attacking set pieces by shooting in vain at goal.
City looked like rescuing the game only well into the second half when Guardiola introduced Mahrez and switched to 4-2‑3-1. Too late.
Guardiola said: “I don’t want to complain or look for excuses, we are out. For the first 25 minutes or so we struggled to find our rhythm. We were a lot better in the second half. We did create some chances but we also conceded two goals. We did some good things in the game but we made mistakes in both areas and that’s why we lost. At this level of the game you have to be perfect.”
“It’s disappointing but now it’s time for holidays. We will keep trying, and one day I am sure we will be able to bridge this gap.”
Guardiola, with increasingly impatient owners and new players needed in defence and midfield, has only one year remaining on his contract in which to make up for lost time.