For the first time since 2006, there will be no Champions League semi-final involving Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo.
The search for new legends is gathering apace. Neymar, Kylian Mbappe and Robert Lewandowski have already showcased their talents in Lisbon and Saturday night looked the perfect setting for the Premier League’s outstanding candidate, Kevin De Bruyne, to follow.
It didn’t happen, largely to do with Pep Guardiola’s tactical decisions, with the Belgian played out of position in the first half and then bereft of technical players around him during the second.
One felt desperately sorry for the 29-year-old who must now wonder if he’s ever going to get his hands on the coveted Champions League.
Despite Jordan Henderson’s selection as Footballer of the Year, most would agree the Manchester City midfielder is the best player in the country by a mile.
His record of 16 assists last season was not only a league high, but double the amount of everyone else bar Trent Alexander-Arnold.
However, for all the plaudits, De Bruyne knows at 29-years-old he has to lead City to the first Champions League title in their history to reach the rarefied atmosphere of legends and ballon d’Or winners.
As an intelligent and questioning football man, as many of the great Belgian players are, he will will wonder why Pep Guardiola appeared to have a tactical brainstorm against Lyon that offset a lot of his own qualities.
For all his undoubted genius, Guardiola is sometimes accused of over-complicating things for one-off games and that seemed the case for a long time yesterday.
Instead of allowing De Bruyne he usual role powering forward from the right side of midfield in a 4-3-3 where he can see the play and deliver pinpoint passes, the chief creator was stuck out wide on the right, a virtual winger in a 3-4-3.
Not only that, all of De Bruyne’s skilful accomplices – David Silva, Bernardo Silva and Phil Foden – were all left on the bench, leaving him without like-minded team-mates capable of creating space for him.
City went into the game clear favourites to defeat the seventh-best team in France. Guardiola’s decision to tinker to accommodate Lyon’s back-five always looked a dodgy move, and the early signs weren’t encouraging, particularly from their star man.
De Bruyne, hugged closer to the touchline than we’d normally see him, huffed and puffed rather than glided. He seemed to be working too hard rather than let things happen naturally.
His first touch was a volleyed pass that was intended for Gabriel Jesus but was cued instead straight to Lyon goalie Anthony Lopes. A couple of set-pieces, usually his forte, were both too close to the goalkeeper.
Frustration mounted further when the underdogs went up the other end to score first through Maxwel Cornet after 24 minutes.
De Bruyne’s one trademark pass at the end of the first half wasn’t capitalised upon by Raheem Sterling.
The Belgian, who has matured from callow youngster at Chelsea and Wolfsburg into an influential dressing-room leader, was City’s acting captain during lockdown, appearing on all the Zoom calls about Project Restart to represent the club instead of the official skipper, David Silva.
You could see his visible frustration grow as City’s attempts to equalise came up against a French wall. He took the armband when Fernandinho was substituted and had two free-kicks on the edge of the box that he would normally have gobbled up in domestic football.
This time he put the first too close to Lopes who tipped away with a flying save for the TV cameras. The second was sent over the bar.
By now, De Bruyne was the go-to man for City as Neymar had been for PSG on Wednesday night when they had trailed Atalanta.
He moved geographically towards central areas where he could have more effect on the game. He had a sighter with a run and shot that was blocked at the last moment by Lyon’s former Manchester City defender Jason Denayer.
True champions don’t give up of course and De Bruyne’s efforts were finally rewarded after 70 minutes. When Sterling wriggled to the byline on the left, and looked back, he would have been glad to see his illustrious team-mate breaking into the box at just the right moment.
Sterling’s cutback was perfect and De Bruyne didn’t waste his moment, opening his right foot and sidefooting low into the corner past Lopes, his 19th goal of the season but surprisingly only his second in the Champions League.
The relief was short-lived. Ten minutes later, Lyon sprung the offside trap and Moussa Dembele, once of Celtic, beat Ederson. De Bruyne led the protests that Aymeric Laporte had been fouled in the build-up but to no avail.
By now, the failure of Guardiola to bring his technicians off the bench to help De Bruyne was becoming harder to understand. It took 56 minutes for winger Riyad Mahrez to come on to move De Bruyne infield and until the 83rd minute for David Silva to arrive.
It was too little, too late. Sterling missed a sitter to equalise and Lyon went up the other end to score their third, again from Dembele.
It means De Bruyne will have to wait at least another year for the Champions League his talent deserves. He’ll now go on holiday while Neymar and others stake their claims to be the world’s “best player” once Ronaldo and Messi leave the stage.
De Bruyne might not have been at his superlative best but, on this occasion, he wasn’t helped by his illustrious manager.