It was shock, and yet it was not.
Pep Guardiola, long hailed as a master thinker, over thought the quarter-final against Lyon, as he often does in crunch games. He changed the formation, had players playing out of position, and made City play a waiting or defensive game, which is not their usual style.
As a result, Lyon found themselves able to play freely, and they scored 3 times. To make matters worse, Raheem Sterling missed an open goal when he could have even things up at 2-2.
Another year, another quarter-final defeat for City, who were undone by a controversial VAR decision, an astonishing miss, and a goalkeeping howler.
Said Guardiola: “One day we will break this cup. The first 25 minutes we struggled. The second half, I had the feeling we were better. But you have to be perfect in this competition in one game, and we weren’t. Honestly, I don’t want to talk about the circumstances, it looks like I am complaining and finding excuses. We are out. We did a lot of good things, but it was not enough. We made mistakes in both boxes at key moments and that’s why we are out. We are disappointed but now we go to our holidays and come back soon to lift the players and club again and continue. Maybe one day we will break this cup.”
Kevin De Bruyne, who played well, said “Different year, same stuff. The first half wasn’t good enough, I think we know that. We started slow. But second half we played really well, came back 1-1 and had a couple of chances. and then 2-1 and 3-1 ends the game, and it’s shame for us to go out that way. I have not seen [the Laporte-Dembele tangle] back, but whatever they decide, they decide. I’m not going to blame that, we should have done better. Even at 2-1 if [Sterling] scores the goal it’s 2-2 and the game goes on. But that’s football, the fine margins that make the difference. We need to learn, man. It’s not good enough, and that’s it. It’s time to go home, it’s been a long season. I need to go home anyway because my wife is expecting any moment, so I have something to focus on personally … but yeah, it’s hard.”
Guardiola, who loves to change things for key games, was predictably unpredictable from the start, starting with a back three, with his squad’s three main holding midfielders starting either in or in front of the defence. No doubt City were concerned about Lyon’s mobility in midfield and their intelligent forward surges. they barely attacked till Lyon scored.
That goal came from a knot in that City backline, as Walker lingered in an empty space, playing Karl Toko Ekambi onside. A saving tackle sent the loose ball towards Maxwel Cornet, who finished brilliantly.
City’s players worked hard. De Bruyne was prominent, albeit strapped into a stilted system. On his touchline Rudi Garcia looked puzzled, man trying not to make too much noise for fear of breaking the spell. For an hour his team had been asked to do nothing different, to perform only within their comfort zone.
In the end, it was too little late. There are arguments that the last goal involved a foul by the goal-scorer, but 59 seconds before that goal, Sterling had missed a howler.
For the first time in the history of the UCL, two French clubs have reached the semi-finals. Lyon will play Bayern Munich in the second of two France-Germany clashes on Wednesday evening, PSG and Leipzig contesting the other the night before.
Credit: Football Tribe Malaysia