Manchester City and Pep Guardiola made costly mistakes as they were knocked out of the Champions League last night. They faced an Olympique Lyonnais side that were ready for the moment. But, Lyon may not have been going through to the semi-finals if it wasn’t for a number of mistakes by both City players and Guardiola.
Manchester City Mistakes Cost Them in Champions League Loss Against Lyon
Pep Guardiola’s Costly Mistake
In the first half, Pep Guardiola did as much damage to his team with his selection as he could. He decided to come out and match Lyon’s back three. Fernandinho, Eric Garcia and Aymeric Laporte made up the defence, and most of City’s early passing. By halftime, Garcia had attempted 59 passes and Rodrigo had only attempted 34.
All season, Manchester City have used Rodrigo’s entry passing to start their attacking moves. He’s attempted roughly 500 more passes than any other City player this season. But, he had attempted less passes in the first half against Lyon than Manchester City’s entire back five.
And it showed in the numbers. City only came up with five shots – four of which came in the last ten minutes of the half. Two of those came from Rodrigo himself. The ripple effect his lack of ball dominance had on the rest of the team was obvious. But more importantly, it gave Lyon the confidence that they needed to do their job.
Big Game Guardiola
‘Big game Guardiola’ is a concept that most regular Champions League watchers will be quite familiar with. He’s always had a habit for taking wild swings on formations or personal at the biggest of moments. Rather than trusting his tried and trusted techniques, he likes to rebuild his side around the tactics of his opponent.
To be fair it has worked times; the most famous example of which is obviously playing Lionel Messi centrally against Real Madrid. But there have been plenty of questions as well. Playing Phillip Lahm in midfield against Real Madrid, leaving Thomas Muller on the bench against Atletico Madrid, or leaving Raheem Sterling on the bench in the first leg against Liverpool.
The constant of each moment has been Guardiola’s team looking tight and confused with the task at hand. It’s rare to find a time where one of Guardiola’s famous big game tweaks has worked out without Lionel Messi involved.
Manchester City Player’s Mistakes
Even in this game against Lyon, it would surprise no one to learn that Manchester City played much better after Riyad Mahrez replaced Fernandinho. It gave them the balance they needed with players in the positions they were comfortable playing. They got the equalising goal because they had retaken the tactical advantage in the game.
It was a delicious ball by Mahrez that played Sterling in on the goal, who then pulled it back to Kevin De Bruyne to finish. However, it was not the only lovely ball of the game. City had multiple opportunities to put this game away. Gabriel Jesus had a giant miss, Sterling himself had a pair of outrages misses on the end of lovely moves. If any of those go in City go through.
But then came City’s Achilles heel. They were beaten by two plays straight through their defence. The first was bad. Poor positioning from Rodrigo and Eric Garcia allowed Houssem Aouar to play in Moussa Dembele. But questionable refereeing allowed Karl Toko Ekambi to get away with an offside and Dembele himself to get away with clipping Aymeric Laporte.
Refereeing decisions had nothing to do with Lyon’s third goal, which was given up because of Man City’s impetus to push forward looking for another equaliser. They had their chances to beat Lyon though. And the combination of their two fatal flaws, defensive backbone and clinical finishing is the reason they are out.
In the end, Pep Guardiola and Manchester City beat themselves and are out of the Champions League because of it. It’s easy to think about how different this game would have gone with a normal 4-3-3 setup. Maybe with Phil Foden or Mahrez starting from the onset, it could have provided a different outcome.
Pep said he didn’t want to expose themselves in the channels against Lyon. But how much did he cost his team by trying to cover for their weaknesses? It might be time that Pep spends more time focusing on what his team does well in the season’s most important moments.