Pep Guardiola was brought to Manchester City to make them Champions League winners… so after their latest European failure, what can he change to make sure they finally win the big one in the future?
- The Champions League was the ultimate goal when Pep Guardiola arrived
- Manchester City came tantalisingly close in the 1-0 defeat by Chelsea in Porto
- The Catalan has delivered 10 trophies in five seasons at the Etihad Stadium
- But what can the 50-year-old do to finally turn City into European champions?
The full-time whistle at the Estadio do Dragao on Saturday night signalled the end of Manchester City’s Champions League dream — for now at least — and the start of a summer of soul-searching at the Etihad.
What can Pep Guardiola do to turn City into European champions? Because, make no mistake, that was the ultimate goal when he was brought to the club in 2016.
A two-time winner as coach at Barcelona, Guardiola’s spell at Bayern Munich was viewed as a disappointment after he came up short in Europe.
What can Catalan boss Pep Guardiola do to turn Manchester City into European champions?
That could never be the case at City where the Catalan has delivered 10 trophies in five seasons and influenced the way many teams play in the Premier League.
But the Champions League remains the Holy Grail and Guardiola came tantalisingly close in the 1-0 defeat by Chelsea in Porto.
Failure will not sit comfortably with the 50-year-old obsessive. It has raised questions over this City side and Guardiola will already be looking for the answers.
Guardiola and City came tantalisingly close to European glory in the 1-0 defeat to Chelsea
On paper, a team that has just regained the Premier League title and won the Carabao Cup for the fourth year in a row does not need too much improvement, particularly when you consider that City reached the Champions League final and FA Cup semis.
But like many great coaches, Guardiola tries to stay ahead of the game and he knows that some changes will have to be made.
‘You have to shake, have to move,’ he said before Saturday’s final. ‘With the same guys it’s almost impossible. After a defeat, a win, we change, me included. We change.’ A striker remains the No 1 priority following Sergio Aguero’s exit, with Tottenham’s Harry Kane and Erling Haaland of Borussia Dortmund the two leading candidates.
A striker remains the No 1 priority, with Harry Kane (left) and Erling Haaland leading candidates
City are also keen on Jack Grealish although that could hinge on selling a player to make room for the Aston Villa captain. A left back and central midfielder are other possibilities depending on departures.
It’s understood that City will listen to offers for defender Benjamin Mendy and striker Gabriel Jesus. Raheem Sterling, Aymeric Laporte, Riyad Mahrez and possibly even Bernardo Silva could move on if that is their wish.
Guardiola has never been one to keep unhappy players although he would rather they stay to fight for their places, as John Stones has done so admirably this season.
City are also keen on Jack Grealish although that could hinge on selling a player to make room
City did very well to get so far without a top striker as the injury-hit Aguero’s departure became inevitable and doubts persisted over Jesus.
Ilkay Gundogan and Phil Foden finished as the club’s top scorers with Kevin De Bruyne, Ferran Torres and Sterling among the other players used as false nines by Guardiola.
But a club like City cannot go into another season so light on strikers. A top-class goalscorer would have the world at his feet in this team, and that will not be lost on Kane and Haaland.
Bringing in a recognised No 9 would also allow City to play De Bruyne in his best position off the right-side of midfield.
Doubts persist over Gabriel Jesus, and City cannot go into another season so light on strikers
One of Guardiola’s greatest strengths is his ability to get the most out of a very good group of players season on season; to drive them on regardless of former glories.
One trophy has eluded him at the Etihad, though, and he needs a reaction from his players now more than ever.
City can’t afford to do what Tottenham did in 2019 and fade away after losing the Champions League final — and aren’t expected to either.
They need to be like the Liverpool team that beat Spurs having suffered the pain of defeat to Real Madrid 12 months earlier.
Saturday was the second all-English final in three years and there is every chance that Premier League teams will figure prominently for the foreseeable future. City should be back but Guardiola needs his players to use failure in Porto as inspiration.
Guardiola needs a reaction from his players now more than ever following their defeat in Porto
Stick to the Plan
It seems incredible that having accepted responsibility for City’s quarter-final defeat by Lyon last season by changing a tried and tested line-up at a crucial moment, Guardiola did exactly the same against Chelsea.
Defensive midfielders Fernandinho and Rodri were left on the bench with top scorer Gundogan asked to screen the back four. By the time Fernandinho came on after more than an hour it was too late.
Given City’s success since 2016, Guardiola needs to trust himself and trust his players. Changing the plan only confuses them and encourages the opposition. Over-analysis has been his undoing and next time he needs to stick with the team and tactics that have got City so far.
By the time Fernandinho came on in Porto after more than an hour it was too late
Drop the Quad
If anyone can win the quadruple, it’s City. Time and again they have competed on four fronts deep into the season, resulting in a Premier League and Carabao Cup double in 2018 and 2020, and a domestic treble in 2019.
But it comes at a price. Inevitably, they fall short and the effort takes its toll on key players.
Maybe it’s time for Guardiola to rest more of them for the cup competitions so they are fresh for the Champions League.
Tactics aside, many of them were well below their best in Porto. De Bruyne looked out of sorts long before Antonio Rudiger’s shoulder did the rest.
Guardiola may need to rest more key players like Kevin De Bruyne for the domestic cups
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