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A manager's post-match interview tends to go one of two ways after a watershed moment; either taking the blame or apportioning it to their players instead. Following Manchester City’s 3-1 defeat to Monaco in the second leg of their Champions League last-16 tie Pep Guardiola took the blame squarely on his shoulders after watching his side knocked out on away goals following a 6-6 draw.
With the Ligue 1 leaders banking three away goal from their 5-3 first leg defeat, the onus was always going to be on City to score at the Stade Louis II against a side who have rattled in 84 goals in just 29 games.
“I tried to convince them in all the meetings we had to come here, try to attack and score,” Guardiola said.
“My mistake was being not able to convince them to do that.”
“I did [convince them] in the second half but it was too late. All managers make mistakes but I don't think it was down to a tactical mistake.
“It's simple. The difference was between the first and the second half. In the second half we tried to win the game, we tried to play. I did it all my career in that way. But the problem was the first half. We weren't there.”
A lack of urgency
Tiemoue Bakayoko got the French side’s all-important third goal with 13 minutes remaining.
At that stage you would be forgiven for expecting a Manchester City onslaught with a solitary goal all the Premier League needed to ensure their progress to the last eight of the competition.
But the Citizens failed to trouble Monaco keeper Danijel Subasic until the third and final minute of stoppage time when Kevin De Bruyne’s tame free-kick was hit straight into the ‘keeper’s grasp.
In other words, in the 16 minutes after going 3-1 behind City failed to have a meaningful effort on goal.
Credit should go to Monaco for that by maintaining their shape and setting up in a flat 4-4-2 without the ball (see below), making it hard for the Premier League side to play through them.
When City did finally get into potentially dangerous areas Monaco pressed and closed down the space as if their lives depended on it. For that Leonardo Jardim’s side deserve a lot of credit; they had a plan which they executed perfectly.
In the still below Raheem Sterling receives the ball on the right-hand flank and is immediately closed down by two Monaco players.
Out of options, the winger knocks the ball back to right-back Bacary Sagna. But one of the players involved in the original press shoots out to help Joao Moutinho (8) close down the full-back and he quickly unloads to De Bruyne.
While Monaco made City’s life hard, Guardiola’s men shown a staggering lack of urgency or invention in the final 16 minutes and whenever the Premier League side picked the ball up in the middle third there was a paucity of options for the man in possession.
In the example below De Bruyne is the player in possession. But when the Belgian looks up the only options he has available to him are full-backs Gaël Clichy and Sagna and holding midfielder Fernandinho.
There is a sizeable gap from there to David Silva who, 25-30 yards away, is De Bruyne’s next best option. However, the diminutive Spaniard is closely guarded by a Monaco midfielder.
In that frame there is such a gap between the De Bruyne and City’s most advanced players that his only forward option is to attempt a long pass. He chooses to pass the ball to Fernandinho instead.
We are conditioned in this country to think that when a team is trailing in the dying stages of a game the only option is to put their biggest centre-back up front and go direct.
That flies in the face of Guardiola’s ideology and is not always the best option anyway as you increase the risk of losing the ball – not least when your targets are Silva (5ft 7ins), Sterling (5ft 7ins), Sergio Agüero (5ft 8ins).
Silva, given his technical ability, should be brave enough to enter the yellow box and offer a forward option. The Spanish playmaker has the quality to receive and move it on in a tight space but he was almost hiding further up the field.
READ MORE: 11 PLAYERS PEP GUARDIOLA HAS IMPROVED
So what’s the problem?
This is the million dollar question. Guardiola took the blame post match but you can guarantee with his reputation as a perfectionist and as someone who watches every game back to find the marginal gains the former Barcelona and Bayern Munich coach will not have been impressed with what he saw.
City mustered a grand total of zero efforts on goal in the first half and just one when they were staring down the barrel of another European exit. The players froze under pressure. There is no way of getting away from it.
But the question is whether they froze because of Guardiola’s ideals. It is no surprise that City have attempted the fewest long passes in the Premier League with 1,057. For context, the Premier League leaders are Burnley with 1,576.
City were so reluctant to go long, only pumping the ball forward at the very end via goalkeeper Willy Caballero, that one cannot escape from the thought they were unable to break out out of Guardiola’s stylistic demands – that or they were simply caught between their manager’s wishes and what conventional wisdom says you should do when chasing a game.
The last time City were chasing something from a game was at Liverpool on December 31. Jürgen Klopp’s side lead 1-0 at Anfield and it was a similar story in the final 10 minutes as the Citizens failed to break down the home side.
The Reds dominated possession and when City did finally wrestle the ball back off their hosts they were pressed high up the field and restricted to knocking the ball sideways in the vain hope of finding an avenue to exploit.
READ MORE: WHY MANCHESTER CITY TARGET JOSHUA KIMMICH SHOULD REMAIN AT BAYERN MUNICH
What’s the solution?
When Guardiola was appointed he did not go overboard in terms of recruitment. There was talk of a drastic squad overhaul but the Spaniard signed five first-team players and moved on seven – only three of which left permanently.
His style has always been to try to mould the players – look at the way he turned Javier Mascherano into a centre-back or his work with Philipp Lahm – he has been given to work with but in season one of the City project he is going to have little to show for his efforts. This summer will, therefore, be a busy one at the Etihad Stadium.
There are a number of ageing players who are out of contract, chiefly Sagna, Pablo Zabaleta, Clichy and Yaya Toure, and that will enable Guardiola to clear the decks and bring in players who better understand what he wants or are more malleable and can be coached into understanding his philosophy.
This is the end of the beginning for Manchester City. City 2.0 will be a different proposition next season.