Football Features

A catalogue of errors sees Man City choke again in the Champions League against “ultimate giant killers” Lyon

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 22:37, 15 August 2020

In a shocking night of football, Lyon upset Manchester City to knock the English side out of the Champions League with a massive 1-3 win.

The result sets up a rematch of the 2010 semi-finals against Bayern Munich, but one cannot help but think about Manchester City and how this superbly talented side threw it all away in Europe for the third straight season.

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Manchester City had to beat Real Madrid in the round of 16. They were supposed to play Juventus in the quarter-final and then Bayern Munich or Barcelona in the semi-final. Their run to the final in their efforts to win their first Champions League was to be a brutal test.

And when Lyon shocked Juventus to qualify, many opined that their task just got easier. That they would now walk into the semi-finals for a showdown against Bayern Munich, the two favourites in the competition and easily the two best sides in i. And on the balance of play in Lisbon, that’s what should have happened.

But games are not decided on the balance of play, they are decided on goals. On the key moments in both boxes. And there, Manchester City were found lacking in a big bad way for the second (third?) year in a row. Nevermind Pep Guardiola’s tactics and how strange they were, how much they held his side back for the better part of an hour, City dominated the game and had the ball in danger areas enough that they should have had more to say in the final third. Of course if Pep had just gone for it from the start then perhaps City would have scored more.

But the team was what it was, and even though they dominated City couldn’t make it count. Their ineffectiveness perhaps best highlighted by the staggering miss from Raheem Sterling on 86 minutes (after Riyad Mahrez had come onto the field to open the game up). After some superb play in the build-up from Gabriel Jesus, the Brazilian flashed the ball across the face of goal and instead of tapping it in nicely, Sterling blazed it over. From that distance out it was genuinely harder for him to miss than score, and yet miss he did, undoing all the praise that was surely heading his way after his superb assist for City’s first equaliser.

Of course Sterling’s miss was made all the worse and all the more wrenching by the fact that Lyon went up the other end and a minute later finished the game with their third goal of the night.

Lyon’s first goal was in the first-half. A long ball behind the City defence caught Kyle Walker and Aymeric Laporte asleep at the wheel. Walker played Charles Toko-Ekambi onside and Laporte failed to track his run. Eric Garcia recovered nicely to tackle the striker, but as no other City player bothered to track back, the ball rolled to Maxwell Cornet who completed his trilogy, scoring for the third straight game against Pep Guardiola’s City. It was a sumptuous finish from Cornet, who bent it around Garcia and Ederson who had come well off his line in a panic and got caught out. So that’s Ederson, Walker and Laporte hanging their heads in shame.

Lyon’s second goal of the night came just short of 80 minutes. Aymeric Laporte pushes high up the field and plays a horrible pass infield which Lyon cut out and immediately begin running at the City defence. Eric Garcia steps up to play offside; a risky gambit but the other City defenders hold his line – that is until Laporte comes rampaging back in a panic and plays Toko-Ekambi and Moussa Dembélé onside for the Lyon pass.

The ball goes through to Toko-Ekambi who is offside but doesn’t touch it. Laporte and Dembélé clash legs, Laporte falls over completing his humiliation and Dembélé races through to score, shooting under Ederson. 1-2.

But sure, there was still time, right? And true enough City carved out that superb chance for Raheem Sterling that he missed. But if City can do that, they can create more, right? Wrong. Less than a minute after Sterling’s miss Laporte wins a header nicely but the ball bounces back to the feet of Ekambi again. Rather than drop back to form a shield with his other defenders, Laporte pushes up and tries to control the ball on his stomach. Predictably, this goes horribly wrong and Ekambi begins running at the defence. He finds Houssem Aouar whose tame shot is easily saved by Ederson, right? Wrong again! The Brazilian tops his earlier mistake by bouncing the ball back to Dembélé who slots home.

1-3. Game over. City out at the quarter-final again. Aymeric Laporte self-destructing at the back again. It’s the same old story for Manchester City who just cannot seem to play to their best level in the knockout rounds of the Champions League.

Pep Guardiola hasn’t won the European Cup since 2011, and this was arguably his best chance to do it and his side threw it all away. Playing such high-risk football requires players who are made of the sternest stuff imaginable and at this point we have to start asking: how many Man City players are mentally strong enough for the intensity of the Champions League? On the evidence of tonight’s game you could argue that not very many of them have what it takes.

Laporte, Ederson, Walker, even the usually sensational Sterling. All of them made shocking errors tonight (two years in a row Laporte’s had a breakdown that cost his side two goals in quick succession) and what’s worst is it didn’t seem like a surprise. It felt like the expected performance from Manchester City, whose own worst enemy in the Champions League continues to be themselves.

It’s not about tactics, everyone knows Pep has tactics for days, it’s about having the guts and the focus to do what needs to be done, to see the job through to the end. And City – Pep included – just don’t seem to have what it takes in Europe.

Meanwhile for Lyon, Aouar, Dembélé, Toko-Ekambi and even City old-boy Jason Denayer were absolutely sensational. They showed the kind of resilience and confidence that City could have used a lot of. Nothing City did fazed them, not even when Kevin De Bruyne began cooking.

Moussa Dembélé didn’t even start the game, but when he was called upon to make the difference he did just that with two straightforward finishes that punished some slack defending from City. The kind of cold, calculated finishing that City needed.

Now it’s the French side who move forward to face Bayern Munich. And on paper you’d give it to the Bavarians but Lyon have now seen off Juventus and Man City in, let’s be honest here, pretty confident fashion. Rudi Garcia’s boys had set their stall out, played to their strengths, and done the business. Twice. Bayern will have to be at their brutal best if they are to see off Lyon; this season’s ultimate giant killers.