Disaster. The death of English football in Europe. The end of Pep Guardiola’s managerial career.
Manchester City’s elimination from the Champions League on Wednesday night sent raptures around football. Over-reacting, misguided, nonsensical raptures of sensationalism. Losing a tie having taken a two goal lead into the second leg is a severe disappointment of course, but conceding three away goals always left City in a perilous position.
In truth, though, was much more expected from City in the Champions League this season? A run to the semi-finals last year was great and all, but this edition of a rebuilding City is a different animal once again. Guardiola is still nurturing young players, working with a dysfunctional defence and having to make do without a goalkeeper of the standard you would expect. Complacency swept across English football at the news that Manchester City had drawn Monaco, a Monaco side that are the top scorers in Europe and led by the excellent Leonardo Jardim, no less.
Their first half performance in the millionaire’s playground was woeful. City were dominated in midfield and did not register a single attempt on goal. This is where the tie was lost, really. Whether you choose to put this down to players not having enough ‘passion’, Guardiola misjudging the match tactically or some other reasoning is up to you, but it was that first half that cost City their place in the last 16. Poor decision making and finishing from Raheem Sterling, Leroy Sane and Sergio Aguero did not help in the second half either.
Performances like that happen, though. Realistically, City were going to be underdogs in the next round anyway, they have played brilliant football at times this season, but the inconsistencies of a developing team are still there. Monaco are one of Europe’s best sides this season and possess exceptional talent throughout the team, there is no shame in losing to them even without the clinical Radamel Falcao in the squad.
It is not a sign of failure in Guardiola’s first season, nor is it a representation of the collapse of English football. The Premier League is underachieving in Europe – as it has done for several years – but this defeat is not any more a symbol of that than any other elimination. City conceded a lot of goals in the tie, but they were against the best attack in Europe in case anyone has chosen to overlook that.
Wednesday night was a surprise, not a crisis point for Manchester City or English football. Their inconsistencies that have dominated this season crept into their game once again and it cost them. Is it any surprise that it cost them when they played a team better than almost any other they have faced this season? No, absolutely not.
Other than the psychological impact of losing in such a meandering manner, this should have little impact on their weekend match with Liverpool. And if there’s to be any impact, it could well be in the form of a backlash: they are still in a strong position to finish in the top three, let alone the top four, and are arranging their trip to Wembley for an FA Cup semi-final. It might not be how the season was expected to go when Guardiola arrived, but given what we have seen this season, a top four finish and an FA Cup win would be a reasonable outcome.
City are a young team. So few of their first team options are in their peak years, this team will only get better. Losing after scoring five in the first leg will hurt, but the improvement in their domestic performances goes to show how good this City side will become. Liverpool should be wary of a backlash from an immensely talented team with a point or two to prove this weekend.