‘New season, same story‘, said Kevin de Bruyne after the game. I don’t think there’s a better way of summarising it. It was an all too familiar affair for Manchester City fans.
Lesser opposition (no disrespect to Lyon, who were fantastic on the night, and Monaco, but disrespect to Spurs and Liverpool) once again thwarting City in the Champions League. Lesser opposition once again defeating City in the most infuriating of circumstances. Individual errors, terrible tactics, dodgy decisions. Rinse and repeat.
Is it too late for CAS to change their mind? I really wouldn’t mind avoiding this for another two years…
Anyway, here are the five things that we learned on the night…
Pep is relentless at overthinking
He’s only gone and done it again. That was the reaction to every fan upon seeing the line-up. Three central defenders. Straight away, it increased the nerves. And straight away, it was clear it was a terrible decision.
It rendered City mostly impotent going forward, with our only attacking outlet often Sterling on the left, who would duly be surrounded by two or three Lyon defenders. It made it difficult for de Bruyne to get on the ball, and when he did he had few options anyway. And it hardly made us defensively secure, either. Adding another relatively immobile defender in Eric Garcia (not that he played badly) did nothing to address the ability of Lyon to use their pace to get in behind.
Every City line-up in the Champions League should have one guiding principle: how can we get the best out of de Bruyne this game? That was the philosophy Pep had at Barcelona with Messi, and it is to his discredit that he has forgotten that in favour of over-analysing the opposition and obsessing with nullifying their strengths.
City’s quality is superior to Lyon’s. It makes no sense to go out of your way to fiddle with our set-up. Focus on making City as good as we can be, and then make whatever minor tweaks to suit the opponents. It was annoying to see Pep say after the game ‘We lost, so my plan didn’t work’. We should have won the game in spite of his plan, and had Sterling not missed the open net it would not have vindicated the plan.
After Fernandinho went off, we dominated. It seems an inescapable conclusion that had we set-up like that from the start, we’d currently be preparing to face Bayern Munich in the semi-final – where Pep would currently be preparing a 2-2-2-3-1 formation with Mendy as a false left-back and Gundogan as an inverted winger.
Aymeric Laporte is overrated
I hate to admit it. But there are some City fans who see Laporte as our van Dijk. He is not. Van Dijk is better. No debate. I am a big fan of Laporte. He is a very good defender and he has a great left-foot. He has undoubtedly been a great signing for us. However, he needs to be led – he is not the leader we need him to be.
Unlike Vincent Kompany, who could make Dedryck Boyata or Mangala look competent alongside him, Laporte does not have that elevating effect. He needs someone alongside him to do that. Kalidou Koulibaly could possibly be that figure, and I hope we sign him. It was another costly error from Laporte, after he helped Spurs to score a couple of goals last year. I don’t think he looked particularly comfortable against Benzema at the Etihad, either.
Don’t get me wrong, I am more than happy with Laporte. We just have to be realistic that, so far, he is just shy of the level of someone like van Dijk or a peak Kompany.
Raheem Sterling is underrated
On the other hand, I have absolutely no doubts about Sterling’s quality after last night. Yes, he was guilty of that incomprehensible miss, and that’s a part of his game that I think we’re going to have to accept is always liable to creep up on him. It was just unfortunate it came at such a pivotal moment.
However, he was our most dangerous forward once again, just as he was against Real Madrid. In the first-half, he performed admirably when he was often overcrowded, winning free-kicks in dangerous positions or fighting to keep possession. In the second-half he made some great runs and showed excellent composure to set up Jesus for a chance the Brazilian should have buried.
No other Premier League player has scored more goals than him in all competitions, and the positive thing is we all know Sterling can do a lot better than he has done this season. Honestly, if Sterling improves next year, we’re looking at a Balon D’or contender. He is still underappreciated, not just by rival fans but a considerable chunk of the City faithful, too.
Our problems run deeper than individuals
Yes, Pep’s line-up was unforgivable. Yes, Laporte gifted Lyon possession. Yes, Ederson was poor. Yes, Sterling missed a sitter. But our problems in Europe are far deeper than the individuals. It’s hard to explain. It’s something intangible. But ever since we first qualified under Mancini, we have never looked the same side in Europe that we have domestically.
We have never given a performance that truly reflects our capabilities. Even when we have beaten Barcelona, Real Madrid and PSG, I do not think we have shown our best. The issue must be mental. It probably is our lack of history in the competition. A lot of people dismiss it, but I think there is something to it.
There’s a reason Liverpool can be a different beast at Anfield, and overturn a three-goal deficit to Barcelona. There’s a reason Real Madrid recently won it three years in a row in spite of not having the best team at any point. These sides play with a belief that they belong, that they can and will win. We do not. We play like we are guests among the stars, and that we are unsure of if we truly belong. I thought if anybody could address that, it would be Guardiola. Unfortunately, it appears not.
VAR cannot be trusted
After the Spurs debacle last season, where the referee was inexplicably only ever shown one angle of Fernando Llorente’s handball, in spite of other angles making it unambiguous that it did strike his arm, it is clear VAR is not going to help us in Europe.
I don’t want to sound bitter. VAR is very low on the list of reasons I think City have failed in Europe for the past two years. But it is a factor. Why was the referee not asked to look at the monitor to see Laporte get tripped up for Lyon’s second goal? Even Rio Ferdinand in the BT Sport studio could not fathom how it was allowed to stand. It was clearly a foul that clearly influenced the goal. If VAR had made the correct intervention, we’d likely have won the game. As it is, we are out – although we can only blame ourselves.
You can follow Mark on Twitter here: @MDgough96
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