Typical City. Typical fucking City.
Last night, it was a depressing task to have to put this game into words. It’s still depressing to think about. That last five minutes was like some kind of anti-concussion, instead of blacking out for five minutes and being unable to remember the pivotal point of painful impact, the moment was amplified and drowned out the other 90 minutes of football that came along with it. I can barely remember Tottenham’s third. I had to remind myself what our opening goal looked like.
Now, as the rest of the game becomes slightly less blurred, the obvious secondary reaction sets in; anger. Anger at a competition which has, time and time again, repeatedly beaten us down as a fanbase with a litany of blatant penalties which have not been given, offside goals given against us, the softest of red cards and much more besides. Anger at the realisation that, for once, if the incorrect decisions can’t shaft us then the correct ones will.
We simply cannot win.
I’m angry with the way we played. Sure, we were great going forward. Kevin De Bruyne showed precisely why it was wrong to leave him out in the first leg (oh, we’ll get to that) whilst Bernardo put in the standard 9/10 performance we’ve come to expect from him nowadays. Relentless, creative and unpredictable. Raheem’s goals spoke for themselves. Gündogan ran the midfield from deep whilst Kyle Walker had his best game in a City shirt in my eyes. These things were undeniably great.
However, defensively we were about as much use as a woollen helmet. Laporte picked the worst single game to make his biggest defensive blunders during his time at the club. Ederson, whilst being his usual manic self and running out to stop a couple of potential counter-attacks in their tracks about 20 yards from goal, should absolutely have done better with the first goal we conceded, especially as the shot was right at him. Spurs had four clear chances to score in the entire game and scored three of them.
This is, quite frankly, a pathetic showing for a team looking to progress to the semi-finals of the Champions League.
I don’t want to cling too much to the cost of the squad. Things like transfer fees are not necessarily indicative of the quality of the player, they’re merely indicative of the market. However, the defence we put out yesterday (Ederson included) cost almost £200 million, and this factors in the £8 million signing of Vincent Kompany. It’s not unreasonable to expect a clean sheet or at least not to concede three in a one-off game.
And yet we have been keeping clean sheets. This is a good defence. We conceded three goals yesterday in one single Champions League game, yet you’d have to go back nine Premier League games before you see the Blues concede three in total.
So why does it all go to pot the moment the Champions League anthem plays over the chorus of a crowd of booing? There’s an obvious difference between the Premier League and knockout competitions – few teams play for a draw in the Champions League – yet our ability to control a game defensively, to strangle an opponent with pure possession, just evaporates in this competition when it really matters.
For the third season in a row, we’ve gone out of the Champions League as a result of being on the wrong side of blisteringly high-scoring games of football. A running theme under the management of the greatest mind working in football at the moment.
In 2017, it was Monaco. The best Monaco team in decades featuring two players that we’ve since poached from their ranks, Bernardo and Mendy, and a third, a generational talent in Kylian Mbappe, that we attempted to sign before he moved to PSG for a world-record fee, but Monaco nevertheless.
There was a frantic first leg at the Etihad, in which Pep told the team to go out and attack, attack, attack, ended 5-3 to City and put them in somewhat of a driving seat. However, a tame, uncharacteristically reserved performance in Monaco saw us lose 3-1 and go out on away goals.
In 2018, it was Liverpool. They blew us away in the first half an hour of the first leg at Anfield, albeit after a criminal assault on the team bus on the way in, facilitated entirely by the Merseyside Police who then mysteriously cited “lack of evidence” as their reason not to charge anyone, despite social media (and an Amazon Prime documentary) being filled with footage of fans who could be easily identified if anybody tried.
Pep asked his team to go out and try to control the game but not play too gung-ho, remembering the Monaco game from the previous season in which the away goals killed us. However, the Liverpool press caught out our defence and made them pay. We were goalless at Anfield and, with a three goal deficit and the inevitability of giving up an away goal, couldn’t turn it around in the second leg at the Etihad.
Now, it’s Tottenham Hotspur. The weakest of the three sides who have knocked out a Manchester City team coached by Pep Guardiola, yet the one we showed the most respect. In the first leg at their new stadium, Guardiola, with one eye on the upcoming fixture mania to follow before the end of the season and no doubt with last year’s Liverpool result on his mind, played for a 0-0 and came away 1-0 down.
Not an insurmountable defeat, and as we got closer to kick-off on Wednesday night I became slowly more convinced that we’d overcome it. But we gave up three away goals, meaning that despite scoring four, it was all for naught.
There are explanations for all of the defeats. Against Monaco, our defence contained Kolarov, Clichy, Sagna and Caballero and was clearly being pushed to its absolute limits. The Liverpool game at Anfield was preceded by the bus attack and the Etihad game saw a goal ruled out for being offside which would have given the Blues a 2-0 lead, a decision which is impossible to explain even now. The first leg of this year’s Spurs game was one decent penalty away from being a success and the second leg was one camera angle away from possibly having Spurs’ third goal disallowed. These are fine margins in a game which hinges on the finest.
Yet, despite this, there’s a trend amongst them. Guardiola’s approach to the competition is baffling to even the most staunch fans of his (which is realistically 99% of City fans, myself included). Tottenham, Liverpool and Monaco played their strongest XI in both legs, relying on the quality of their best players to get them through the ties. Pep (and I know this is becoming somewhat of a cliché but there’s a reason why clichés become a thing) is constantly trying to outsmart his opponent and tinkers with the tactics in order to solve a problem that may not necessarily present itself, almost always to the detriment of the strength of the squad on the pitch.
In Monaco, Fernandinho was deployed as a left-back as Kolarov played centre-back and an aged Yaya Touré was planted in the base of midfield against the dynamic Monaco frontline which took great pleasure in running rings around him.
At Anfield, Ilkay Gündogan was inexplicably chosen to play on the right-wing in order for City to have more control over the centre of midfield, only this actually meant that City had absolutely no control over the right-hand side of the pitch and we were quickly picked apart.
At Spurs, Delph and Mahrez, two of City’s worst performers throughout the entire season, were chosen to play and fans were rewarded with the inevitable – an ineffective performance from Mahrez in which he offered no potency going forward and a defensive lapse from Delph which gave Son all the time in the world to line up a shot to give Spurs the win.
Meanwhile, Kevin De Bruyne, who featured in a very winnable FA Cup semi-final the weekend prior, was left on the bench for the game and it absolutely showed. His performance this week only served to prove how much of a foolish decision his absence truly was, as he dominated the midfield from the first minute. Once again, Pep tried too hard and it didn’t pay off.
We have been the best team in Europe for the last two seasons. We’ve won the Premier League with 100 points and we could win it a second time with 98 points, which would only be second to our own centurion achievement in terms of points totals if we managed to do so. Yet Manuel Pellegrini remains our most successful manager in Europe as he took us to a semi-final against Real Madrid, which resulted in one of the most insipid performances I’ve ever seen from a City team. Pep Guardiola is a far superior manager to Pellegrini, yet what do we have to show for it in Europe?
Rationally, I know it’s not all Pep. Players have responsibility to take for the defeats, they have to. I’ve come to accept that we won’t win the Champions League under Pep. We may never win it at all – some teams with far more pedigree in European competitions have never done it – yet should this prove to be the case with the squad we’ve assembled, it’s difficult to think of that as anything but a failure when we look back on this team in a decade’s time.
As for Liverpool fans who spent their evening watching the Spurs game instead of their own team playing against Porto, before taking to Twitter to laugh at City – they’re just great fans. Top stuff. No rivalry there, though. Stupid City fans trying to force a rivalry.
As for United fans who’ve suddenly come crawling out after their four seasons of utter irrelevance to laugh at City being knocked out of a competition you probably won’t even be in next season, enjoy it. The fact that moment is probably the pinnacle of your season so far says everything about how hilariously far your team has fallen.
Finally, to City fans whose immediate response was to take to social media to hurl abuse at the greatest defender at the club, Aymeric Laporte, forcing him to go private on Twitter and Instagram, you’re scum. I’m all for a bit of knee-jerk “we’re terrible, we need to sell half our defence” tweets to nobody in particular in the heat of the moment, but to actively take to Twitter and pin it all on one single player who, aside from this week, has been comfortably our best defender since he joined, is an absolutely scumbag move. I hope you’re ashamed of yourselves.
On Saturday, the fixture repeats itself and, honestly, I’d take a repeat performance, Laporte and all. Before this week I was indifferent to the idea of Spurs going on to win the Champions League and getting top four, now I want their lovely, shiny stadium to be the home of Thursday night football. I want Eriksen to leave, Dele Alli to leave, Son to leave, I want Pochettino to leave. I want it all to crumble whilst DT and Troopz laugh at them on AFTV as Arsenal finish above them yet again.
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