Pep Guardiola is DESPERATE to end his barren Champions League spell… but before plotting to take down formidable Bayern Munich, Man City must end their French hoodoo against a Lyon side they failed to beat twice last season
- Manchester City take on Lyon in Champions League quarter-final on Saturday
- Pep Guardiola’s side already know they’ll play Bayern Munich in the last four
- But Guardiola can’t allow his players to get ahead of themselves in Lisbon
- Lyon possess more than enough threat to shock City in a one-legged contest
- Guardiola will think it typical that formidable Bayern stand in the way of glory
The problem with the truly seismic results is that they’re distracting. They command attention, they raise eyebrows and sidetrack minds.
Bayern Munich’s magisterial 8-2 demolition of Barcelona on Friday night dropped a few jaws within European football as well.
So Pep Guardiola and his Manchester City players would be forgiven for getting ahead of themselves, of casting their thoughts forward and applying their brain cells to think of ways to negate Bayern’s devastating threat in Wednesday night’s semi-final.
Manchester City celebrate during their last-16 victory over Real Madrid which set up Saturday night’s Champions League quarter-final against Lyon in Lisbon
Pep Guardiola already knows City will be facing an impressive Bayern Munich side in the semi-finals if they beat Lyon but can’t afford to look beyond Saturday night’s contest
Bayern underlined their status as favourites by hammering Barcelona 8-2 on Friday night
That would be a huge mistake. Underestimating Lyon, who stand in City’s path at the Estadio Jose Alvalade in Lisbon on Saturday night, could well prove fatal to their ambitions.
Yes, City come into the game as overwhelming favourites but they won’t even get a crack at Bayern if they display complacency against the French side.
Any stray thoughts about how to get the better of Robert Lewandowski, Serge Gnabry and Thomas Muller before or during their meeting with Lyon and they could be flying back home before their time.
Guardiola won’t allow it, of course, but as he watched his former club Bayern stuff eight past another former club Barcelona, surely even he was making mental calculations concerning a prospective semi-final showdown.
The Champions League has been a cruel mistress of late to a man who has two winners’ medals from 2009 and 2011, a time when Barcelona were in much ruder health than today.
Lyon will be no pushovers with Memphis Depay celebrating after scoring during their victory over Juventus in the last round
A stunning rearguard action saw Lyon past Juventus on away goals in the last round
Appointed by Bayern in 2013 to build on their Champions League triumph that year, Guardiola could only deliver three semi-final exits.
They were humbled by Real Madrid during his first season, well-beaten by Barcelona in his second and agonisingly edged out by Atletico Madrid in his third.
And his track record has regressed since arriving at City in 2016. They crashed out to Monaco on away goals in a high-scoring last-16 contest during his first campaign.
City found themselves well beaten over two legs by Liverpool in their 2018 quarter-final and were cursed by VAR against Tottenham at the same stage in 2019.
Sometimes the football Gods are against you but sometimes it can feel as though your own powers are on the wane in the games that really matter in a season.
City’s hierarchy have never publicly demanded Guardiola delivers them a first Champions League success but clearly they hired his expertise in the competition for a reason.
So the prospect of facing Lyon to reach a semi-final looks a promising one but Pep will feel it’s typical that City find themselves on a collision course with a Bayern side who look capable of steamrollering anyone right now.
City have experienced first-hand the threat Lyon pose as recently as last season.
City were stunned by Monaco in the last-16 during Guardiola’s first season in charge in 2017
Guardiola’s side were well beaten over two legs by Liverpool in the 2018 quarter-finals
VAR intervened dramatically as City crashed out to Tottenham in the 2019 quarter-finals
Paired in the group stage, City were handed a jolt when the French side won 2-1 at the Etihad Stadium in the opening group game. Maxwel Cornet and Nabil Fekir scoring the decisive goals in the first-half.
In the return in France, Guardiola’s side were held 2-2 in a back-and-forth game with Cornet stinging them twice. More remarkably, City were limited to just one clear-cut chance over the 180 minutes.
City’s record against French opposition is oddly poor. They have won just two of seven meetings, with one the 5-3 first leg win over Monaco in 2017 that ultimately ended in elimination.
While it would be daft to compare Lyon to Bayern’s standards, City underestimate them at your peril.
Any thoughts they might be short on competitive match practice following the over-hasty decision to cancel the Ligue 1 season (with Lyon only seventh at the time) in April were dispelled by that match with Juventus.
Despite the best efforts of Cristiano Ronaldo after Memphis Depay’s early penalty extended Lyon’s aggregate lead to 2-0, they held firm to advance.
Memphis Depay and Maxwel Cornet celebrate as Lyon beat City 2-1 in last season’s group
Cornet was on target again as the two sides drew 2-2 in the return encounter in France
Manager Rudi Garcia deployed a back three – which quickly becomes a back five when out of possession and under pressure – in both legs against Juventus to great effect.
Expect them to be similarly compact when absorbing waves of City attacks on Saturday night.
Guardiola’s side have something of an Achilles heel against opponents that set up this way.
Five times this season they’ve lost to a side playing a back three/five – twice against Wolves, twice against Manchester United and once against Arsenal in the FA Cup semi-final.
So City may have to be patient in breaking down a stubborn Lyon rearguard but these single-legged games add an element of unpredictability and the French team will surely create chances.
Former Fulham and Celtic striker Moussa Dembele is Lyon’s leading scorer with 22 goals
Former Manchester United winger Memphis Depay in training in Lisbon ahead of the game
Karl Toko Ekambi presented problems for the Juventus defence in both last-16 matches
Former Fulham and Celtic striker Moussa Dembele has scored 22 times this season though oddly not once in eight European outings.
And Depay is very much a different beast from the player who flopped at Manchester United, as demonstrated by 15 goals this season.
The Dutchman’s electric pace remains in evidence and will be a useful weapon on the counter against a City back line that may have Aymeric Laporte back but is also likely to feature the 35-year-old Fernandinho.
With that in mind, Garcia may once again favour the movement of Cameroon international Karl Toko Ekambi up front.
Signed in June following a loan spell from Villarreal, he started ahead of Dembele in both legs against Juventus, managing to stretch their defence though without scoring.
City will know all about Cornet on Lyon’s left flank following his goals against them last season and he’ll look to exploit any space left by Kyle Walker.
So there’s no shortage of reasons why Lyon won’t simply roll aside for Guardiola’s team. Thoughts of Bayern simply must be put on hold.
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