May 16, 2021

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The lessons that Man City must learn from previous defeats in the Champions League to reach the final


Manchester City appointed Pep Guardiola in 2016 to take them to the next level. This is absolutely the case in the Premier League, setting new records along the way, especially in 2017/18, and soon they will lift a third title in five seasons under the leadership of the Spaniard.

City also monopolized the Carabao Cup under Guardiola, as well as winning the FA Cup.

But the Champions League is the big one that has eluded City so far, while Guardiola has not personally had his hands on the famous trophy since 2011, when he won his second with Barcelona.

Manchester City - Tottenham Hotspur - UEFA Champions League Quarterfinals: Second leg
An offside decision costs Man City in 2019. | Mark Atkins / Getty images

This is the club’s best chance so far to change that at last … if they can keep their nerves and see a rematch in their semi-final against Paris Saint-Germain.

City never reached this late stage of the Champions League in the first four years of Guardiola’s rule, but is in a strong position to reach the final for the first time thanks to a 2-1 return to Paris last week. These two away goals can be invaluable.

But how can they turn this into winning the draw as a whole, and what lessons can be learned from previous Champions League outings that can help them this time around?

Alexander Kolarov
City were too relaxed for their overall lead over Monaco in 2017 Jean Catuf / Getty images

Defective weaknesses were what it cost City in Guardiola’s debut season, when he sent six goals on two legs against Monaco, canceling the six goals he scored himself.

The city could be controversial too gung-ho in the first game, ranking with Yaya Toure as the only defensive midfielder behind an attacking front five. Guardiola also bet on Fernandinho as an emergency left back over Pablo Zabaleta, who replaced the Brazilian a minute after Monaco scored his third goal at the Etihad. There is less jump from right back to left back.

Although he held a common lead, Guardiola wanted his team to attack the rematch to end the draw and prevent the return of Monaco, which he feared. But he admitted that he failed to convince the players to do so until the second half, at which time it was too late.

Guardiola lost his temper and was sent off during Liverpool's 2018 draw
Guardiola lost his temper and was sent off during Liverpool’s draw in 2018. | Matthew Ashton – AMA / Getty Images

City were close to unbeaten in the Premier League in 2017/18, finishing with a record 100 points at the end, but Liverpool won a total of 5-1 when they met in the quarterfinals of the Champions League.

The damage was mostly in the first game, when City lost 3-0 at Anfield, but there were hopes of returning to the return match in Manchester City, when Gabriel Jesus made a breakthrough in this overall lead of only two minutes in the game.

City were then building up pressure and had an inadmissible offside goal, which could have further reduced the deficit. But maintaining composure is so important at the highest level, and Guardiola lost tonight, invading the pitch when the half-time whistle blew to face the officials.

This behavior led the City boss to be fired and he failed to return to the technical zone during the decisive second half. Without his guidance and side instructions, his team lost its way and Liverpool scored twice to kill all last hopes.

A weak figure gave Tottenham the decisive goal in 2019
A weak set figure gave Tottenham a decisive goal in 2019. | Chloe Nott – Danehouse / Getty image

The loss in the 2018/19 quarter-final against Tottenham is mostly remembered with the winner of Rahim Sterling, who was controversial for an offside from VAR.

But the critical blow was really struck when Fernando Llorente managed to weakly tie the corner of the near post. By the time that goal came in, City were advancing to the semi-finals, although Sterling would be ruled out later.

Sets, though hardly the most glamorous part of football, can be as important and potentially decisive as they were two years ago. Shutting down, even for a fraction of a second, can be extremely expensive.

Careless defense in an open game was also costly earlier in the game, after Sterling almost immediately lifted the narrow overall lead of the Spurs from the first game.

Guardiola may be to blame for thinking about Lyon's draw last season
Guardiola was to blame for thinking about Lyon’s tie last season | Pool / Getty images

The nature of the unique mini-tournament, which decided the 2019/20 Champions League in light of the delays caused by the coronavirus pandemic, may have made it easier to win, as the quarter-finals and semi-finals were shortened by one leg. Conversely, however, there was no room for error.

Lyon had already caused a rift against Juventus in the previous round, and this may have affected Guardiola’s judgment a bit when he changed things tactically, choosing three from behind, while missing a number of more creative City players.

David Silva, Bernardo Silva, Riyadh Mahrez and Phil Foden were left on the bench, and Guardiola eventually changed things to bring Mahrez when City fell behind.

They did return to the level 20 minutes after the tactical change, but a bad miss by Stirling and a mistake by goalkeeper Ederson helped Lyon take the lead again. If City took a more normal approach to the game, they might have been boosted from the start because they largely lacked urgency or creativity in a new system.

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