Guardiola’s Groundhog Day

Pre-match it was puzzling and potentially perplexing. City’s starting XI suggested an uncharacteristically cautious – almost negative – approach from the Catalan genius.

Whatever misgivings soon gave way to the usual sentiments of ‘In Pep We Trust’. As fans and mere mortals, who were we to question the thinking of the club’s most successful manager?

Post match it was painful and, with the benefit of hindsight, predictable that a master plan had disintegrated into a disaster class.

Aided by UEFA’s karma creation, otherwise known as VAR, and abetted by glaring goal scoring and goal keeping gaffes, Guardiola’s quest for Champions League glory once again shuddered to a halt at the quarter final stage.

Pep is being widely criticised – and with some justification – for fielding a team that was short on creativity. No Bernardo, Silva, Foden or Mahrez, opting instead to nullify Lyon’s attacking threat with a trio of Fernandinho, Rodri and Gundagon.

Why, having beaten Real Madrid a week ago, make such fundamental changes to combat a team which finished seventh in France’s much maligned Ligue 1?

It doesn’t stack up in the aftermath of City’s devastating 3-1 defeat. Ifs and buts don’t show up in a score line, but if Jesus and, most tellingly, Sterling had scored, and Ederson hadn’t fumbled, Pep would have been hailed as a tactical visionary

Theoretically that’s a three goal swing to City, not forgetting the outrageous VAR review which dismissed Dembele’s foul on Laporte, just seconds before he raced clear to re-establish Lyon’s lead at 2-1.

It could all have been so very different, but once again, it’s all so very depressingly familiar.

In previous Champions League exits against Monaco, Liverpool and Spurs, City have suffered due to some outrageous officiating, most recently Llorente’s handball, immediately before scoring Spurs’ precious away goal at the Etihad.

The season before that, Leroy Sane’s legitimate goal would have given City a 2-0 half time lead against Liverpool at the Etihad. Guardiola wouldn’t have been sent off for protesting about the disallowed goal. The aggregate tie would have been well set at 3-2 to the Scousers, with 45 minutes to play in a febrile atmosphere in M11 3FF.

A 3-0 first leg defeat at Anfield could so easily have been a 2-2 draw, but for an offside Salah goal being allowed, an onside Jesus goal being disallowed, and a stonewall penalty not awarded after Robertson upended Sterling.

Last night’s VAR decision to allow Dembele’s first goal to stand must have had UEFA’s hierarchy creaming their underwear. City knew if it came down to fine margins they’d end up the loser.

The harsh truth is that City were the architects of their own downfall. Wrong team selection, wrong tactics, a badly miscued effort by Jesus, an astonishing open goal miss by Sterling and a schoolboy goalkeeping error by Ederson – all combined to deliver sweet FA in Lisbon.

It’s an almost unforgivable cocktail of calamities which, nonetheless must be forgiven, if City are to win top honours in 2020/21. Sterling has been a stellar performer, particularly since Project Restart, and he, more than anyone, will be well aware of the ramifications of that miss.

Lyon were good, but not that good, that a City side playing as it can, and has done recently, shouldn’t have just swept them aside.

Aymeric Laporte was surprisingly suspect in a more exposed defensive back three, whereas the unsettled Eric Garcia, at just 19, showed his lack of experience on the night.

The irony of this undoubtedly disappointing campaign, is that City’s much maligned defence, is cited as the primary reason for the Premier League title now residing on Merseyside. The lack of leadership, the loss of Kompany to Anderlecht and Laporte to long term injury, cannot be overstated, but City only conceded two more goals in the league than Liverpool.

Yes, there are lies, damned lies and statistics and City, having already acquired Nathan Ake at £41m from Bournemouth, will be looking for more upgrades at centre back and left back this summer.

Take a look at the other end of the spectrum and the 102 goals scored in the Premier League, and you’d be forgiven for thinking all is rosy upfront. City have goals running throughout the team, with five players; Sterling, Jesus, Aguero, De Bruyne and Mahrez, all reaching double figures in the PL.

But, put it into perspective, there could so easily be another 20-30 goals in the GF column. Eradicate that profligacy and, irrespective of the season’s defensive deficiencies, City would have much more than just the League Cup to show from 2019/20. The same principles apply in the Champions League.

City are going to be busy in the transfer window – one that runs through until early October – and with good reason. It isn’t a knee jerk reaction to a poor defeat, but this is a team, a squad, in need of more than the odd tweak.

Ferran Torres looks a great capture at £20.9m from Valencia, with bags of ability to provide crosses and assists to swell the ‘goals for’ column still further.

The transfer rumour mill is in overdrive so let’s see if it’ll be another two, three, four or even more signings arriving at the Etihad, with a similar number of ‘name ‘ players departing.

The big question as City strive to get back on track is who is going to lead City’s resurgence?

Pep is entering the final year of his contract. By next summer he’ll have been with City for five years. He was at Barcelona for four years and Bayern Munich for three – will he want to stay at the Etihad for an extended period?

At what stage does he or Khaldoon make a decision? What contingencies are in place if Guardiola decides to go? Obviously these elements are not in the public domain – and for good reason – but nonetheless they will need to be addressed sooner rather than later.

By most standards finishing as Premier League Runners-up, League Cup winners, FA Cup semi finalists and Champions League quarter finalists is a long way from disaster, but Pep has set the bar ‘so, so’ high in previous years.

As far as Sheikh Mansour and Khaldoon are concerned it’s no secret they covet the Champions League above all else. The majority of City fans may not agree – many preferring Premier League glory – but sticking it to UEFA and lifting the ‘jug-eared’ trophy – remains the Holy Grail in Abu Dhabi.

Here’s hoping Pep, Khaldoon and Co, can somehow eliminate the over elaborate thinking, the second guessing and mental hangs up which punctuate every Champions League campaign, and finally get the job done in Istanbul next May.

By David Walker @ReadButNeverRed @djwskyblu


  1. August 16, 2020  3:24 pm by Malcolm Reply

    Great article as ever. Before Pep came City had great players, won trophies and played some scintillating football. Pep was brought in for one reason - to add the Champions League crown. This he has spectacularly failed to do despite having spend hundreds of millions of pounds. The simple question the owners have to answer is how much more time will he be given?

    I know many City fans who are already saying that we have to remember where we were 10 or 20 years ago, but they have to see we are light years away from those dark places. Do we want to become another Arsenal, or strive to win the Champions League - and not just once?

    • August 16, 2020  4:12 pm by David Walker Reply

      Comparisons of 20 years ago aren't really relevant anymore. Yes, we all know where we've come from, we're proud of how we've stood by the club irrespective of on field success, but the club is light years away from where it was at the turn of the century. Pep has given us the best football ever and he's almost become a victim of his own success. We have adversity every season - that hasn't always been the case with our rivals - but undoubtedly the club want to win the Champions League above all else. It's almost unthinkable to think of City not wanting to renew his contract, it's always been believed that it was solely Pep's call. That may or may not be the case going forward, but a decision is required sooner rather than later. I'd like him to renew, upgrade the team and do it his way and not compromising because of the opposition for any given game. Thanks for your comments.

  2. August 16, 2020  3:43 pm by Doug Henshaw Reply

    Nicely written once again Dave. Pep for me got team and tactics wrong I was happy when I saw the line up. 15 mins in you could see it wasn't working but Pep didn't change anything even at halftime subs were made too late for me. The team vastly under performed as well unfortunately. But some calling for Peps head really need to give there heads a collective shake. To be honest I'm more gutted about losing title than C/L but it would be of been good to stick two fingers up to Uefa and the media by winning it. Pep should in my eyes commit to a new long time contract hopefully Khaldoon can get the job done a rebuild is needed in some areas. Kompany is a massive miss and not replacing him has cost us this season. Just got to hope we get back to our best next season, especially as we seem to be signing Messi 😄

    • August 16, 2020  4:05 pm by David Walker Reply

      It's a critical transfer window this time around, the most important of Pep's time at City. Yes, news of a contract extension would settle everybody down in terms of who's leading us for the next three years. We should bear in mind it's been a weird season, very fragmented and you never know what toll it's taken on Pep. He lost his Mum to Covid 19, the club had the spectre of the CAS hearing hanging over it for a long time and then we lost Sergio for the vital run in. Not much of a break before we go again and the refreshing of the squad and injection of new talent and energy is vital. Thanks.

  3. August 16, 2020  3:51 pm by Mark Sutcliff Reply

    Another excellent article. My only question that I would love answering is why do we always change our style of play to suit our opponents in Europe. When we play as we do in England we obliterate our opponents more often than not then we play “Johnny foreigner” and we must show them respect and adapt to their ways. Why?

    • August 16, 2020  3:59 pm by David Walker Reply

      Only Pep can answer that. We love him as our manager and it feels like treason to criticize him, but he isn't infallible and by whatever measure, he got it wrong last night. That said, if we had taken our chances we would still have won despite, rather than because of, the tactics.

  4. August 16, 2020  3:57 pm by Pete lynch Reply

    So so disappointed last night. Our lack of clinical finishing and mistakes have once again cost us dearly. We all saw the line up and scratched our heads however Pep is nearly always right so who are we to question. Let's hope for some freshness to the squad and a rejuvenated Pep to go again next season.

    • August 16, 2020  4:17 pm by David Walker Reply

      That's a fair summary. It's a horrible sense of deja vu and there really are no excuses for that defeat - VAR or no VAR. Vital transfer window to strengthen and refresh the mindset of the entire squad and staff.

  5. August 16, 2020  4:00 pm by Phil Croll Reply

    Very disappointing result but the first half display in particular was very slow side to side passing. A new system that players did not seem to cope with and Fernandinho too slow to be exposed in the back three like that. I fear that may have been our best chance of winning the Champions league and it has got away from us.

    • August 16, 2020  4:13 pm by David Walker Reply

      It certainly seems that way the day after the night before. However, let's see what the transfer window brings and if Pep has the appetite and commitment to push us to new heights.

  6. August 16, 2020  4:27 pm by NMKTBLUE Reply

    Devastated but I am surprised...
    No story of our season... inconsistencies have been huge but let's have it right this season has not felt real anyway not even dippers winning the title... we will be back to our best and most dangerous next season with fresh blood, Foden starting all the time and using younger players and Pep will use summer to get it right again i have no doubts we will smash it... also the dippers will go backwards I'm sure of it

    • August 16, 2020  4:31 pm by David Walker Reply

      When compared to other teams we do seem to lack pace and power at times. Last night should never have happened, but it did, and we have to learn from mistakes. Pep has to realize when he's screwed up and admit it. I'm not sure that's always the case. We have to step up and not rely on any dip in the Dippers, although the latter would be nice. Thanks.

  7. August 16, 2020  6:33 pm by Steve Hine Reply

    It's just a theory of course, but does Pep want to stay?
    It's no secret that he has not discussed his present contract. he is a proud Catalan and the job at Barca for a rebuild could be back on the cards.Perhaps he hankers for a return to his homeland and a peaceful retirement. Maybe it's his friendship with the suits that keeps him here. I feel that had we won the Champions League he would have left with job done. That being the case who would or will replace him?

    Whatever his reasons, we'll never know, suffice to say his affect on the Premier League will be there forever. Is there a team who do not play out from the back?

    • August 16, 2020  7:12 pm by David Walker Reply

      It's a more than reasonable question in the present set of circumstances. Notwithstanding last night's disappointment and the frustrations of the fans and, who's to say, maybe some of the players, the general consensus has to be for him to want to extend his contract for another couple of years - three in total. You just get the feeling that for the first time since his stay at City, it isn't beyond the realms of possibility that City might conceivably consider a change, if next season isn't a big improvement on 2019/20. You've already seen Juventus and you will see Barcelona sack their managers after exiting the CL. City are very different in that respect but we aren't privy to what goes on behind closed doors. You get the sense this has been an especially tough campaign for Pep - he lost his mother to Covid19, he's worked with the threat of his club being banned from the Champions League, his right hand man suddenly upped and went to Arsenal and he's at a club who everybody seems to love to hate. I for one hope he stays and with new signings and fresh opportunities he will relish the challenge to make City the Champions of England and Europe.

  8. August 16, 2020  6:42 pm by Richard Leonard Cooper Reply

    Very good as always David. Not a lot to add. Poor team selection / tactics, individual errors including the referee. Over the 95 minutes we were, let's be honest, not good enough on the night.
    We appear to have made a good start on squad refreshment with more in comings and out goings to come.
    Unlike other comments I have read on various sites,, to me Pep has been terrific for City and hope he stays to cure us of our Europe "curse" at least next season and hopefully beyond.

    • August 16, 2020  7:15 pm by David Walker Reply

      As ever RC we are most definitely on the same page. Three more years for Pep, an upgrade on personnel, a continuation of beautiful flowing football and a more steely mentality in Europe. He's a winner and we could do with restoring ourselves as the Champions of England and finally conquering Europe.

  9. August 16, 2020  7:23 pm by Andy Reply

    Perpllexed with the 7v3 of behind and in front of the ball instead of his proven 5v5. I never understand the desire for wingbacks at the expense of wingers and especially a wrong footed one. As you know not a fan of Mendy but with a back 3 he or even Zinchenko with a favoured left foot had to be better going forward. Not a criticism of Cancelo but he’s best suited for the right or at the moment a flat back four when more defensive abilities are required.
    So transfer plans. For me out with Mendy, spend on Chilwell and Zinchenko as back up. Out with Otamendi, in with new right sided player and Stones is dependant if Garcia changes his mind. With Poch being lined up for Barcelona will Garcia be no more than a 4th there as well. Next season need to build confidence with a 5 behind the ball again and Rodri needs to step up to what Dino used to do. That way can play 5 creative players every game.

    • August 16, 2020  11:43 pm by David Walker Reply

      A good take on Pep's perceived team selection shortcomings. Who knows exactly who's going to be involved on the transfer merry-go-round in the coming weeks, but a proven CB with leadership qualities is a must, along with a top drawer specialist left back. Even with all our existing flair players we could find ourselves short with Merlin's departure, especially if we suffered a key injury e.g. KDB or Sterling. If we have the budget let's get another creative force in and we absolutely need to get a quality striker. Even if Sergio were to extend his deal beyond 2021, we need another goal poacher, a prolific finisher to convert more of these chances that go begging. Tactically, Pep needs to get back to playing his way and leave opponents to worry about us - not the other way round. Thanks Andy.

  10. August 16, 2020  8:45 pm by Steve Barker Reply

    Still feel completly deflated, this article sums it all up David with its opening gambit regarding the team selection last night. I still can not fathom it out it left glaring holes in our build up play and to often left Sterling or Jesus stranded with no one getting up quick enough to support.
    We know improvements are coming with to good signings so far that make great sense both from a football and a business point of view.
    We need to start replacing Aguero who will fill the void when he leaves possibly next summer another world class striker needs to come in sooner than later and be intergrated over the next 12 months.
    Disapointing night but we know our chance will come again and we will be better equiped to face the battle we need to mess it up now and again to remind us why we love City the stats show us we are still up there with the best and in Europe our time will finaly come.

    • August 16, 2020  11:48 pm by David Walker Reply

      You're not alone. There's a fair few folk left feeling slightly disillusioned after that display. It really was there for the taking and we blew it big time. This is arguably the most significant transfer window since 2010. It will define if we move back to the top of English football and be genuine contenders for the Champions League. It could also have a big influence on the future of our manager.

  11. August 17, 2020  9:27 am by Allan Scanlon Reply

    How I feel almost word for word David. Also, I saw a tweet that criticised Pep for saying we had to be perfect, because even Bayern aren't perfect. I agree. Striving for perfection is Pep's strength and weakness. Because of a few rare reverses - and I think the officiating we've been on the wrong side of might have blurred his vision - he has abandoned that less than perfect way we were playing that was still good enough to blow away the majority of our opponents for 2 seasons and win 7 trophies, for something inferior in a vain quest for the Holy Grail. I'll take Sane flying down the left, Sterling the right, Silva and KDB pulling the strings in midfield driven on by Fernandinho in the knowledge we're going to lose a game here and there. I'd rather get knocked out all guns blazing than not drawn at all.

    • August 17, 2020  2:56 pm by David Walker Reply

      In life we should all learn from our mistakes - hopefully Pep is no different. Encouraging talk of him extending his stay at City, ones assumes for another three years. That's enough time and resource to finally crack the Champions League hoodoo, as well as deliver many more domestic trophies. Thanks for your feedback.

  12. August 17, 2020  9:55 am by Paul Barron Reply

    I do think the tactics were wrong, but Pep is a genius 1 minute and an incompetent the next. Neither is fundamentally true. The season in total has boiled down to just a couple of issues in my opinion. 1. Struggling to break overly defensive teams down. 2. Less reliable defence. The number of games this season where we don’t get behind the opposition, then get hit on the break, it’s a pretty long list. Reports are that Koulibaly has not been at his best this year, whereas Upomecano the other night was tremendous, makes me wonder ! This is my first reply, but keep doing what you are doing, always a good read !

    • August 17, 2020  11:04 am by David Walker Reply

      Thanks for the feedback. Addressing the central defensive shortcomings will be City's top priority now the season is over. We're not just looking for a top quality defender, we're also looking for a leader, an individual he must be able to bring something to the team akin to Vincent Kompany - not asking for much is it? ;-) Without wishing to put too much of a burden on such young shoulders, it would be great if Ferran Torres can give us the speed and threat on the wings to get round the back of opposition defences - so often the key to breaking down those who like to park the bus. We have to trust Pep and Txiki to get it right. In fairness there haven't been too many foul ups in recent years.

  13. August 17, 2020  10:12 am by Richard Winterbottom Reply

    One of the things I have not seen said over the weekend is that playing out wide men on their "wrong" feet, creates problems. Every time Sterling got to the left hand by line, he attempted to cross with his right foot and invariably found one of their defenders. The only reason he missed the open goal was because he should've let it run across him and side foot it in with his right foot. I do not understand why pep always plays his wingers on the wrong wings, and fails to change matters during the game as much as he should. I also fail to understand by someone who is as much a perfectionist as pep allows players to be so one footed. This is a theme which runs through out the team, with both Silvas, Mahrez, and Sterling all being reliant on one foot. One of the reasons we don't score enough goals is that when a chance falls to one of these single footed players, rather than hit it with the wrong foot, they pirouette in the penalty area or look for a pass. Does no one else see this?

    • August 17, 2020  11:26 am by David Walker Reply

      Pep isn't alone in using inverted wingers who cut back inside rather than playing on the wing which is best suited to either their right or left foot strengths. Yes, it can be frustrating at times seeing chances go begging due to a player's reluctance to hit the ball with their 'wrong' foot. Sadly it's so much easier said than done to upskill players to being two footed in their play, Foden, Laporte and Cancelo seem able to do it.

  14. August 17, 2020  3:33 pm by Neal Everett Reply

    Great article as ever David. Honestly, got to say this tie was a golden ticket through to the last 4 and Pep blew it completely. As much a I love our manager to bits, this has to rank as one of the most bizarre team selections in his four years here - and there's been a few!

    When the team news came out about 7 pm on Saturday I was feeling anxious not to see young Foden starting, as he's the name I usually look for these days - and Pep seems to trust him now. However, not to see Mahrez, David or Bernado in the team was even more baffling. Subsequently, Foden not getting one minute on the pitch, even, borders on the criminal for me (I'm a Foden fan you may have guessed).

    While I do have faith in Pep, I did hope (falsely) that if this formation bombed, he'd be quick and incisive in changing things around. Unfortunately, it's now a common theme and probably his biggest drawback these days, in his refusal to accept he's got it wrong. I'm sure in his early days at Barca and Bayern (horrible team) he quickly adapted team formations early if not working out. I'd have rather gone out losing 6-5 with our most attacking side rather than this.

    Pep just seems to have lost that spark and bravery - perhaps, he's just settled into the typical City way of things. It wouldn't be us if we didn't make things hard for ourselves like giving inferior opposition a goal start and not shaking things up until almost an hour has gone. Wasting much of the game also inserts a lot of tension into the players, inevitably leading to mistakes (i.e. Raz, Laporte and Ederson).

    Anyway, we move on until the 1/4 finals next year (at least we're in it - don't get me started on FFP) and all the best to Lyon facing the Germans. I'm sure BM are already planning out how they should change their lineup to cope the 7th best team in France.

    • August 17, 2020  10:32 pm by David Walker Reply

      Can't disagree with too much in there BUT, I still believe Pep is the man to win us the CL and, from a personal perspective multiple Premier League titles over the next 3 years. I'm pretty sure he isn't going anywhere and this huge disappointment will make him and the club even more determined to succeed.

      • August 18, 2020  11:15 am by Neal Everett Reply

        Would agree with that David. I certainly don't want any other manager than Pep and hope he signs the contract extension. The centurions season will always ensure Pep has plenty of credit in the bank. Such a shame therfore we went out of the CL on a wimper, which is the most gutting part.

        However, I also agree with your article comments about the tough year Pep has had - the current situation, his mum and the CAS FFP nonsense. It all takes its toll. Perhaps with a short break, Pep and the players fired up again - and with a few new signings we can get back on track as you state.

        • August 18, 2020  3:19 pm by David Walker Reply

          I've little or no doubt that Pep will be at City in 2020/21 and beyond, I'd bet on at least another three years. City are going to be revamping the squad this summer and common sense tells you that you don't do that with a manager who's going to be leaving in 10 months. For the minority of fans who say 'change the manager' I'd love to know who they have in mind. Who would they put forward as being better equipped than Pep?

  15. August 17, 2020  5:10 pm by stuart reed Reply

    So.... I think we are all in shock (well, I know I am) not because we lost (cos we can all stomach that but because Pep got it wrong and that's the Pep In Whom We Trust. Sure, we've lost in the past but generally due to player errors (and even in this game there were two of them), but the game plan was wrong. And how often has that happened? Almost never, we might draw or lose but not because of Pep's tactics.
    This transfer window is crucial - defensively (would rather they spend £70mil on Upamecano than on a 29 year-old Koulibaly) and for striker (with Aguero in his last season & Jesus' confidence sometimes faltering. Also crucial is tying Pep down (seen some reports including fickle so-called City fan twatterers - ckoff - calling for Pochettino.
    Unlike the media who were calling City the favourites, I don't know of any City fans who would assume so much. I guess it was so they could create a great drama/failure when City lost. Bayern were always favourites in my book well before Friday.
    Hey, we go again...

    • August 17, 2020  10:35 pm by David Walker Reply

      Indeed we do and with Pep at the helm. Even genius' fck up sometimes. Sadly Saturday night was one such occasion. We've come so far and we've a good way to go, but I remain convinced that we'll be back at the top in England by the end of May, and stronger than ever in Europe.

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