Thursday 13 December 2018

Guardiola watches on as City slump

Manchester City 1 Lyon 2

Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola. Photo: Martin Rickett/PA Wire
Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola. Photo: Martin Rickett/PA Wire

Miguel Delaney

So, at the stadium where a home win has become more of a formality than almost anywhere in Europe, and in the competition where the group stage is a mere procession for the super-clubs, we see a shock. And an alarming jolt for Manchester City. They open their European campaign with a defeat to Lyon.

That still might not prove too worrying for their chances of progression or even topping the group, but what was worrying was how they seemed to lose their edge as much as losing the game. This was a bad, flat display.

With Pep Guardiola suspended and in the stands after his frustrated dismissal in last season's elimination to Liverpool, City just had none of the energy he radiates. They were mostly flat, largely unable to match the life of the excellent Nabil Fekir.

Coincidental While that might just be coincidental and unfortunate for stand-in manager Mikel Arteta, this was a match where other absences might have mattered for the first time this season. City badly lacked Kevin De Bruyne's poise, and maybe even lacked a stand-in for Fernandinho, who had what was probably his first game since Guardiola came to the club.

It all meant there was nothing fortunate about Lyon's win. They seized their opportunity.

The even deeper worry for City was how lethargic they were from the start. The warning signs were there long before Maxwell Cornet's opening goal. Most troublingly, it was as if City were so sure of their quality that they stopped displaying any intensity and were just waiting for something magic to happen.

Manchester City's Aymeric Laporte (left) and Lyon's Jason Benayer. Photo: Martin Rickett/PA Wire
Manchester City's Aymeric Laporte (left) and Lyon's Jason Benayer. Photo: Martin Rickett/PA Wire

Is this Guardiola's real value? His intensity in the dressing room and maintaining it on the pitch? Raheem Sterling was City's biggest threat, but he only ever fashioned half-chances.

Some of that was admittedly down to how sturdy Lyon were at the back in the first half, led by a former City player. Having spent five years at the club, Jason Denayer was remarkably making his first appearance at the Etihad. He was also making life very difficult for his former employers - especially Gabriel Jesus. The Brazilian was just getting bullied.

It wasn't just that City were attacking so poorly. It was also how lax they were all over the pitch, while playing dangerously high. Lyon had spotted this with one launch that almost released Cornet.

All of this came together for the opening goal. Fernandinho first played a bad pass, that eventually saw Fekir race onto it. He completely outstripped Kyle Walker and while the playmaker's cross was good, it should have been easily dealt with by Delph. The full-back instead only struggled with it, allowing an oncoming Cornet to power the ball into the corner.

Manchester City's Raheem Sterling (right) and Lyon's Rafael battle for the ball. Photo: Martin Rickett/PA Wire
Manchester City's Raheem Sterling (right) and Lyon's Rafael battle for the ball. Photo: Martin Rickett/PA Wire

It seemed like one of those situations when the opposition sensed vulnerability and went for it.

So it was when Fernandinho played another bad pass, and Fekir offered another sublime finish.

They full-blooded way he just roared through the City half was what we would have expected from the home side's many attackers, but this was all just so passive.

Then there was the passing. It must be a long time since a Guardiola side missed so many square balls, with Fernandinho the main culprit.

City did step it up a bit at the start of the second half, but there was still the space for Lyon to exploit, and that saw substitute - and former Manchester United player - Memphis Depay hit the post.

Arteta introduced the nose for goal of Sergio Aguero and pure pace of Leroy Sane. It had an immediate effect. Sane got in down the left and cut back for Bernardo Silva, as he slotted in one of those typical five-a-side goals.

Except, the typical siege didn't follow. City still couldn't generate that intensity. Lyon still stood strong. (© Independent News Service)

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