Manchester City’s embarrassing loss at the hands of Olympique Lyonnais in the Champions League quarter-finals simply summarized Pep Guardiola’s European journey in the last seven to eight years.
This is the fourth successive season City have failed to qualify for the Champions League semis under Guardiola.
In his first season with the Citizens, the 2016/2017 season, the side were knocked out at the Round of 16 stage by French club Monaco. The following season saw Guardiola’s team move a step further where they met fellow Premier League club Liverpool.
The Reds thrashed City 5-1 on aggregate in a season the Sky Blues accrued 100 points to win the English Premier League. Another last eight exit followed in the 2018/19 Champions League season when another league rivals Tottenham Hotspur narrowly edged out City.
Critics have claimed Guardiola has a certain level of over-confidence and some kind of overthinking when he is supposed to make some very basic and straightforward tactical approaches to games. Same was the case on Saturday night when he decided to bench some of the players that have helped with his tactical formations all season long.
Speaking after the match, Guardiola said, “In this competition tactics is not the most important thing.” But with that response to journalists, you then begin to wonder and question the reason he felt the need to switch to three centre backs and placing defensive minded players Rodri and Ilkay Gundogan in front of them.
In all sincerity, there was no need for a defensive approach against a Lyon side whom, with all due respect, have lesser quality than the English side. City needed to field a very strong attacking lineup to exploit the well organized Lyon defense and score as many goals as possible, but as seen on the night, Pep had other plans.
This was a team that beat Real Madrid in scintillating fashion over two legs in the Round of 16 so there was no need to change plans this time around.
Considering the teams they have lost to in the knockout stages of the past four UCL seasons, barring Liverpool, you would want to make a case for their naivety against those opponents. Monaco, Tottenham and Lyon are not the kind of clubs you would expect City to lose to at this stage where they have spent so much on buying quality players to strengthen their squad.
When the Arab dynasty took over the Citizens, the aim was to ensure the team becomes a force to reckon with first in England and then on the European stage.
Former manager of Manchester City, Manuel Pellegrini by his standards did well for the club while in charge. His team scored goals galore and even won the League Cup and League title in his very first season.
City also played attractive and fantastic attacking football such that by the end of the fifth month (January 2014) of the Chilean’s reign, the team had scored 115 goals in all competitions.
Such was the beauty of City’s play that ‘the Daily Telegraph’ described it as “death by beautiful geometry.”
Pellegrini left the club after the 2015/16 season, when he led the club to the last four of the Champions League. He left City with the fifth-highest win percentage in Premier League history.
With these in mind, it is safe to say one of the key reasons Guardiola was appointed in 2016 was to at least take the club a step further in their European ambitions, which he has clearly failed to do.
It is noteworthy to know that Guardiola’s last Champions League trophy came in 2011 at Barcelona. He left the club a year later and was on sabbatical for some months before signing for Bayern Munich.
In his three seasons with the Bavarians, the Catalan got to three consecutive Champions League semifinals, but he never took them past that stage.
As a result of his relatively ‘evident failure’ on the European stage since his exit from Barcelona, a lot of pundits have stated the seeming reality that the Spaniard cannot survive on the European stage without the likes of Lionel Messi, Andres Iniesta and Xavi Hernandez.
It is also widely believed Guardiola has not done better than his predecessors in the sense that every title he has won has also been conquered by those before him. Both Roberto Mancini and Manuel Pellegrini won the trophy’s he won and since he has failed to impress on the European scene in four straight seasons with the club, some cityzens want him fired.
Almost a billion dollars have been spent on the acquisition of players from different parts of the world since the arrival of Guardiola and it is justified, after such huge investments the Spaniard delivers on the continental stage.
Not to take it away from the 49-year-old though, he is a great coach with a lot of titles that not so many of his colleagues can boast of and at such age, you cannot bet against him not winning the Champions League again. Maybe with City, maybe not. Time will tell.