Man City season summed up in 60 seconds of Champions League exit

Sixty painful seconds

Forget what came before it, Manchester City will look to 60 seconds that were the difference in another quarter-final exit and what could have been.

Trailing 2-1 following a poor first half and controversial VAR decision, City looked certain to level things for the second time with four minutes left and at least take the game to extra time. Gabriel Jesus did well to make space and find an unmarked Raheem Sterling six yards out. He had to score. He didn’t.

It was worse that THAT miss at Burnley, and couldn’t have come at a worse time. Sixty seconds later, and Ousmane Dembele poked past Ederson after he spilled a ball to put Lyon 3-1 up and book their place in the semi-final.

It was the story of City’s season. Inexplicable bad luck – or lapse of concentration – at one end, followed by a calamitous goal conceded at the other. For the third season running, City threw away a semi-final place from the position of being favourites.

Man City vs Lyon

Too much tinkering

Pep Guardiola has only failed to beat three teams as City manager – Celtic, Wigan and Lyon. He hadn’t gone three games without beating any specific opponent since joining the Blues. So the two games from last season’s group stage, where City took just one point from Lyon, were clearly on his mind as he changed formation to nullify the tactics that caused him so many problems 18 months ago.

By packing the defence, plus two further defensive midfielders, Guardiola was trying to prevent Lyon from winning the ball and getting it forward quickly. But after a bright start, Lyon’s opening goal came from exactly that route, and City just couldn’t get the ball to stick in attack.

With David Silva, Bernardo Silva, Riyad Mahrez and Phil Foden on the bench, there were no runners from midfield when City did get the ball forward. The fact it took 56 minutes to revert to 4-3-3 was perhaps a bigger shock than the team sheet itself.

Slim hope for Garcia u-turn?

Once again in a big game, Guardiola had everybody scratching their heads with his team selection by naming three defensive midfielders and just two recognised forward players. As it happened Guardiola matched Lyon’s formation by lining up 3-5-2.

But away from the midfield line-up, the inclusion of Eric Garcia for only his second Champions League appearance was a notable one, coming just one game after he told the club he won’t sign a new contract. Guardiola said Garcia had specific qualities for facing Lyon, and his contract stance doesn’t appear to have harmed his position as being in the top three centre-backs among City’s defenders. It was a huge call to play him in City’s biggest game of the season – maybe this show of faith just 24 hours after Barcelona’s 8-2 humiliation could serve to change Garcia’s future plans.

Solutions in defence

Whether Garcia stays or goes this summer, City have already added Nathan Ake to their ranks and are hoping to add another centre-back. That could see them with up to six first team centre-backs, plus Fernandinho, next season.

Guardiola has experimented with three at the back this season with mixed results, but perhaps it’s worth more of a look going into next season where the games will come twice a week and he will need all of his squad to play their part. Sometimes they will need to defend, and they have the players to pull off a back three with more practice.

The formation also gives Joao Cancelo more options for game time on the left, and – should be return – Angelino would fare better in a wing-back role.

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The end of an era

David Silva will not have foreseen his Manchester City career ending this way.

He was a late substitute against Lyon, introduced when the game had fallen out of City’s grasp. An incredible ten years ending in heartbreaking – but familiar – fashion.

He deserved to go out by lifting the Champions League, but now knows he’s played his last game in a City shirt. As the pain of City’s latest exit subsides, the shame of how Silva will leave the Blues will surely be the longer standing memory of this game.


Manchester Evening News