Manchester City did have some extremely bad luck in crashing out of the Champions League – but it shouldn’t protect Pep Guardiola from criticism because if he’d stuck to the team we know and love, they’d be in the semi-finals by now.
Let’s deal with the misfortune first. Lyon’s second goal came after a trip on Aymeric Laporte that would nearly always see it disallowed.
Raheem Sterling then missed a chance he’d score 99 times out of a hundred and when City are trying to come back again, Ederson makes his worst error of the season.
But having said all that, football is always a risky game when you shrink it down to a 30-minute game. If Guardiola had picked the right line-up and tactics from the start, City would have beaten a side that finished seventh in the French league.
I think the bigger story here is why Pep seems to keep making these same kind of mistakes in the Champions League by overthinking things.
Two seasons ago at Liverpool, he left out Raheem Sterling and put Ilkay Gundogan wide on the right, and City were 3-0 down before they knew what had hit them.
Against Spurs last season, he played two defensive midfielders and had Kevin De Bruyne on the bench looking for a result. They lost and went out over the two legs.
I know they’ve had problems with Lyon in previous group games but I was still amazed when I saw City’s starting team.
Instead of five defensive-minded players and five attack-minded players as Pep normally plays, a back-four and holding midfield player, he chose seven defensive-minded players and only three attackers.
It was therefore relatively easy for Lyon’s back-five to look after the three front men Raheem Sterling, Gabriel Jesus and De Bruyne while Phil Foden, Riyad Mahrez, David Silva and Bernardo Silva all started on the bench.
Adding to the difficulties, any team that uses a system their players aren’t used to is asking for trouble, and City were weaker for it. And what makes me angry and frustrated on their behalf is that there was no need for tinkering.
They are better than Lyon and would have beaten them playing their normal game, even accepting the French side deserve credit for being fit, disciplined and well organised.
Their manager must have loved it when they saw how City lined up. It was only when Riyad Mahrez came on in the second half and they went back to 4-3-3 that it looked more like a Guardiola team.
Before then, it was very strange. I’ve never seen Kyle Walker play so many passes sideways and back because he didn’t have the usual options.
I could just about excuse it had they had been playing Bayern Munich but not even the most ardent Lyon fan would call them free flowing. Their hero Moussa Dembele scored twice but on another day neither would have gone in or counted.
I am racking my brains why Guardiola, one of the greatest managers we’ve seen, has this Achilles heel on tense European nights.
It can only be because of the growing pressure of trying to win this big trophy, something that City have never achieved and he hasn’t triumphed in it for nine years.
They made it a priority to match up Lyon. Why? It was easier for the underdogs when they had less players to mark in the final third.
That’s why De Bruyne couldn’t find the space he normally gets. He completed only 23 of 39 passes – well below his normal range.
The two midfielders Rodri and Ilkay Gundogan were too far apart from the players ahead of them. People might ask if Gundogan is an attacking player but he’s only scored five goals this season so I’d say not. The wing-backs weren’t high enough either, though Joao Cancelo did alright.
You can’t expect any footballer to jump into a new role and formation when they’ve played a different way all season. It changes your mindset.
I am pretty sure City would have beaten Lyon comfortably had they gone out and played their normal game without complications.
As it happens, they so nearly got away with it anyway.
Sterling’s was a bad miss. I missed a couple as bad as that in less high-profile games and still struggled with it for weeks afterwards. Fortunately, Sterling is mentally very strong and he should still be proud of his season overall. He played well last night as well.
As a group though, I think this defeat could hurt City for a considerable time. It’s a massive blow given the importance of the competition for the whole club and they might struggle to get going again next season.
I put it primarily down to Guardiola over-thinking. By failing to allow City to show their superiority for the first hour, he turned it into a shorter game of jeopardy and unfortunately the fates then conspired against them.
Danny Murphy was speaking to Joe Bernstein