LONDON, April 11 — In a week of new experiences for Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City, a comprehensive Champions League 5-1 aggregate exit at the quarter-final stage to Liverpool was an all too familiar feeling.
City have now lost three consecutive games under Guardiola for the first time — having also blown the chance to win the Premier League in the sweetest style by letting a two-goal lead slip to lose 3-2 to local rivals Manchester United on Saturday.
To complete a miserable six days, Guardiola also lost his cool. A half-time tirade at Spanish referee Antonio Mateu Lahoz ensuring he had to watch his side’s latest European exit from the stands.
There was some merit to his complaints. Liverpool’s 3-0 first leg lead had already been cut by Gabriel Jesus’s second minute opener before City were wrongly denied a second goal on the night and a route back into the tie by a botched offside call against Leroy Sane.
“When the teams are so equal the impact of these decisions is so big,” lamented Guardiola.
Guardiola was described as a “very disciplined man” by Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp ahead of the game, who even suggested he could learn from his counterpart’s cool head.
Yet, Guardiola’s outburst is the latest in a highly charged season that has also seen him reprimanded by the English Football Association for wearing a yellow ribbon in protest at the imprisonment of political activists who seek independence for his native Catalonia.
Until the past week, City’s near flawless campaign meant there could be no questioning of Guardiola’s abilities as a coach with even Klopp revering him as “the best in the world”.
However, Guardiola too must now face up to repetition of adverse Champions League results in the spring as a pattern rather than coincidence.
Seven seasons for one semi-final
It is now seven years since he last won the second of his Champions League titles as a coach with Barcelona.
The ease with which his ultra-attacking approach has been picked off in defeats at the hands of Real Madrid, Barcelona, Atletico Madrid, Monaco and now Liverpool a recurring theme.
In the same time, City’s seven seasons in the Champions League since being bought over by the riches of Abu Dhabi’s Sheikh Mansour, have returned just one semi-final.
Over £500 million (RM2.75 billion) on transfer fees alone has been pumped into preparing City’s squad for the latter stages of the Champions League in two seasons under Guardiola.
Their latest European exit is all the more frustrating as it came at the hands of a side they lead by 17 points in the Premier League.
But it is also in keeping with Guardiola’s three years at Bayern Munich where an unprecedented level of domestic dominance wasn’t matched by three semi-final exits in the Champions League.
“£2 billion, 10 years and an entire Gulf state marketing plan in the making, in the end Manchester City’s best shot so far at becoming the champions of Europe was extinguished in half an hour of tailspin at Anfield and the reverberations from two minutes of self-immolating fury from Pep Guardiola at the Etihad,” wrote Barney Ronay in The Guardian.
Guardiola shielded himself from criticism by citing his almost impeccable league record.
With City still boasting a 13-point Premier League lead, a seventh title in nine seasons as a senior coach in three different countries remains a formality.
“We have to win two games to win the most important competition,” said Guardiola. “The Premier League shows how good you are every three days. In this competition 45 minutes may make the difference.”
However, the world’s highest paid coach is expected to deliver on the biggest stage.
In a week, Liverpool and United have smashed City’s glass jaw that went largely undiscovered by their Premier League competition for the previous 10 months.
Work remains to be done for Guardiola, and his mission at City won’t be completed until Europe is finally conquered. — AFP