Manchester City and Pep Guardiola learn vital lessons in Champions League defeat

Guillem Balague
Manchester City's Champions League defeat at Monaco will not force a change of approach from Pep Guardiola against Liverpool.

Guardiola not ready for City to go on the defensive against Liverpool

Manchester City's Champions League defeat at Monaco will not force a change of approach from Pep Guardiola against Liverpool.

Goals, thrills and heartbreak aside, Manchester City’s, Champions League elimination by Monaco will ultimately be remembered as the moment Pep Guardiola discovered beyond all doubt those players that are with him in his future plans for the club, and those that aren’t. But I am pretty sure he knew already he needs a new defence, wingers, a striker…

Pep has known from early on in his tenure at the Etihad that this has been the end of an era and that major surgery was going to be required. Wednesday night showed him precisely where he is going to have to place his scalpel.

He was always on a hiding to nothing when he took over at a Manchester City club determined to establish itself from the bottom upwards as one of football’s leading brands, but seeking to do it initially with its ‘blue riband’ side comprising too many ageing superstars past their best before date.

He was met by press and football followers many of whom were eager to see him fall flat on his backside, not least so they could claim - erroneously - that having won just about everything in Spain and Germany, failure to do so in England was proof positive that the Premier League was far and away the toughest league in the world.

In the process of course they conveniently forget a number of things that hindered their reasoning like the fact that of the 40 teams that have contested the Champions League quarter finals over the past five years only four have been English while Spain has had 15, Germany nine and even France, six.

He inherited a side that last season finished fourth on the same number of points as Van Gaal’s Manchester United and 15 behind Leicester City the eventual extraordinary winners of the Premier League.

No matter thought the press and many of the public, the chatter was that this Pep Guardiola is not all he was cracked up to be and the only way he would prove otherwise would be by matching his achievements in other countries.

The truth of course was that despite an exellent start Pep always knew the limitations that he faced in his new job. Whereas at Bayern all that was required was a few tweaks, it soon became clear to him that what was need here was a root and branch clear out of the first team.

He would not use it as an excuse because he is more than aware how much a part of football they actually are, but injuries to two of the key players that he bought in, Ilkay Gundogan and Gabriel Jesus, certainly didn’t help, and the irregular season of Sane and especially John Stones, and the inadequacies of Claudio Bravo, meant he had to use what was there last season. Only two starters in Monaco were new signings.

Claudio Bravo never really stepped up to the plate as Pep would have hoped and of the only other two major additions, Sané is steadily improving while John Stones is still demonstrating that he has an awful lot to learn. Both are a long way from being the finished article; both are in different ways, works in progress.

It is not uncommon to go from hero to zero in this most precarious of professions. It is however unusual to do so over the course of a two legged match.

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Manchester City’s heart-stopping 5-3 win was one of the highlights of what has been an extraordinary Champions League competition for which Pep received any number of plaudits for dragging his team back from a 2-3 deficit to a memorable victory.

With a display of selective amnesia that night of triumph then becomes a stick with which to beat Guardiola, when following this 3-1 defeat, claims are made that actually the damage had already been done in the first leg.

In truth it is not the defeat per se that will have really wounded Guardiola but rather the manner by which it occurred.

Guardiola will accept defeat, and accept it graciously. I am sure what he struggles with is when one of his teams doesn’t do what he demands of them, not because they are unable to, but merely because they don’t bring to the table the ideal attitude.

The notion suggested by some commentators that having reduced the arrears to 2-1, instead of shutting up shop, City went all out for a second goal and therefore conceded the killer goal is ill-informed nonsense

One of the major traits of Pep’s side is a defensive high line. The last time I looked at the rule book there was nothing I could find that said the only place you could defend was in around your own penalty area.

Pep did not ask his team to attack but rather to defend in a different area, high up the pitch.

The plus side of this high pressure game is that you’re not likely to be beaten by a strike when your backs are against the wall in your own area or by one of the 'pinball’ goals that often occur at the most inconvenient of moments.


The down side of it however is that as a tactic it is totally knackering and requires an application and commitment from everyone including those who usually prefer to place themselves in the limelight rather than put in a shift at the coal face.

And when that happens - or perhaps more accurately doesn’t happen - you leave yourself particularly open to the counter attack and especially vulnerable. That is the reason for Pep’s anger, not the defeat.

At half time there were strong words from the manager that had to do little with tactics and lots with passion and commitment. I feel there is a bunch of players that are happy to be brave and give a step forward and others that think twice about doing exactly that, which is what Pep wants. By the time they take decisions it is too late.

Add to that the fact that individual mistakes counted for four goals conceded against Monaco (a side that is rightly praised now but who scored and conceded exactly the same goals as City) and you would have an idea of the problems faced by Pep.

In England we always look to the person in charge for the reasons all the good and bad in a team. But reasons for things that happen are always more complex. For instance, Manchester City reached the semifinals of the Champions League last season, but till then, since their first appearance in 2011, he had never been beyond the last sixteen.

I always said this would prove to be the hardest job taken by Pep. Nothing to do with how special the Premier League is, but more with the fact he had managed two sides who needed some touches but could still becoming a winning side, and City is one at the end of an era. Total rebuilding is needed. And time too.

Mark my words, this will be a different Manchester City next season.

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