Bad luck, or over-thinking? How Pep Guardiola lost his touch in the Champions League after latest Man City setback

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It was one of the great Champions League final performances – 28th May 2011, Barcelona produced near-perfect football to beat Manchester United 3-1 at Wembley, giving Pep Guardiola his second European Cup in just three years of senior football management.

Given the manner of Guardiola’s side’s victories over Man Utd in both 2009 and 2011, you would have counted on the Catalan coach adding plenty more Champions League titles to his collection in years to come.

And yet, the competition has become a real curse for Guardiola since that day, with his Manchester City side knocked out once again in a surprise defeat to Lyon on Saturday night.

At this point, you have to wonder if such a fine manager is getting something badly wrong on the European stage, with his record at City particularly poor despite such strong domestic form, owing to huge transfer spending on some of the very finest footballers in the world.

Here’s a look through Guardiola’s Champions League exits since he last won the trophy as we analyse what exactly has gone wrong for him at this level…

2011/12 – Barcelona vs Chelsea

A hugely frustrating tie for Pep’s Barcelona, particularly in the second leg. Lionel Messi had one of his best seasons but ultimately Barca missed out on La Liga and under-achieved in the Champions League. After losing 1-0 at Stamford Bridge in the first leg of this semi-final, Barcelona were dominant at home, going 2-0 up and enjoying 72% of the possession.

However, their finishing was not what it could have been, with Lionel Messi hitting the post and then the bar from the penalty spot. Having gone 2-0 up against what was, on paper, a pretty weak Chelsea side managed by Roberto Di Matteo (whatever happened to him?), Barcelona should have had enough in them to get past the Blues, only for their all-out attack to be punished on the break by *that* Fernando Torres goal that silenced the Nou Camp.

Chelsea went on to win the competition in pretty bizarre circumstances that year, so perhaps we can put this defeat down to just being ‘one of those things’.

2013/14 – Bayern Munich vs Real Madrid

After taking a sabbatical in 2012/13, Guardiola was back in management with Bayern Munich in 2013/14, inhering a side that had won the Champions League as part of a memorable treble campaign the previous year.

And yet, his Bayern side were absolutely dismantled by eventual winners Real Madrid in the semi-finals in 2013/14, with Carlo Ancelotti’s side winning 1-0 at home before thrashing Guardiola’s men 4-0 at the Allianz Arena in the second leg.

This was a Real Madrid with Cristiano Ronaldo at his peak, as well as Sergio Ramos and other great players who would go on to win a further three European Cups in the following four years, so perhaps this wasn’t a big disgrace for Guardiola.

2014/15 – Bayern Munich vs Barcelona

Guardiola faced his old club in the 2014/15 semi-finals, with one big question on everyone’s lips – can Guardiola win this competition without Messi, or can Messi win it without Guardiola?

In the end, it was the Argentine maestro who triumphed here, with his moment of individual quality against Bayern defender Jerome Boateng one of the iconic moments in this tournament in the last decade.

Again, there’s no disgrace in being beaten by Messi at his peak, and by a Barcelona side who went on to win the treble that season. Pep’s Bayern put up a decent fight in the second leg, but ultimately lost 5-3 on aggregate.

2015/16 – Bayern Munich vs Atletico Madrid

Now you can start to see a worrying pattern emerge, with Bayern Munich really letting themselves down here as they failed to get past an Atletico Madrid side assembled on a fraction of the budget enjoyed by Guardiola.

Atletico won the first game 1-0 and then got the crucial away goal at the Allianz Arena to scrape through despite a 2-1 defeat, but Bayern had chances and simply seemed to freeze in this big moment.

It would become a familiar pattern for Guardiola’s sides in Europe, the only difference being that from this point on they’d come at earlier stages in the competition, with 2016 being the last time the 49-year-old would reach the semi-final stages.

2016/17 – Manchester City vs Monaco

In an ultimately pretty disappointing first season at Manchester City, Guardiola’s side finished only third in the Premier League, a whopping 15 points behind champions Chelsea and even eight points behind runners-up Tottenham. In the Champions League, they were pretty diabolical in their defeat to Monaco.

City won a thriller at the Etihad Stadium as they took on Monaco in the last 16, with Guardiola’s men coming from behind to beat the underdogs 5-3.

Monaco were superb that season, however, with an exciting young side containing talents like Kylian Mbappe and Bernardo Silva reaching the semi-finals, and they came back in the second leg with a 3-1 victory, going through on away goals after an aggregate scoreline of 6-6.

At this point, you have to wonder why Guardiola found his side conceding so many to what should have been an inferior side on paper, with his team simply unable to cope defensively, whilst also ultimately looking outclassed up front as well.

aguero city monaco
Manchester City failed to get past Monaco in 2016/17

2017/18 – Manchester City vs Liverpool

Liverpool were yet to catch City in the Premier League in 2017/18, with Guardiola’s side miles ahead in an utterly dominant title victory, but this tie was over after the first 31 minutes of the first leg of this quarter-final.

Jurgen Klopp’s side came absolutely roaring out of the blocks, with City unable to cope with the intensity of their game, whilst also seeming intimidated by the Anfield atmosphere.

Despite an early goal in the second leg, Liverpool came from behind to win 2-1 at the Etihad Stadium as well, ending up with a convincing 5-1 aggregate victory as they ended up reaching the 2017/18 final, getting pretty unlucky to lose to Real Madrid in Kiev.

2018/19 – Manchester City vs Tottenham

Perhaps a bit unlucky on this occasion, City went out on away goals to Tottenham, who got a big helping hand with a pretty generous VAR decision to disallow what looked like being a last-gasp winner from Raheem Sterling.

Still, Guardiola’s tactics were once again questionable as he started the first leg with Kevin De Bruyne, Leroy Sane and Vincent Kompany on the bench. Son Heung-min gave Spurs a 1-0 win at home, and they made a superb start in the second leg to grab the crucial away goals as City once again looked lost.

Before the VAR era, however, it seems highly unlikely this narrowest of offsides would have been called, though, with a back-pass deflecting off a City player into the path of Aguero, who was admittedly in an offside position before playing in Sterling for the goal. Many will feel it is against the spirit of the game to disallow a goal over such a small detail, but those are the rules and you once again feel Guardiola’s side should have had enough in them to beat Tottenham over two legs anyway.

2019/20 – Manchester City vs Lyon

A new low for City, who couldn’t take advantage of the new one-off cup tie format of this season’s Champions League to do what was needed in 90 minutes against Lyon.

This is a side that finished 7th in Ligue 1, but who fully deserved the win after yet more puzzling tactical changes by Guardiola seemed to leave his players feeling lost.

Again, City may point to some bad luck as a foul wasn’t given in the build-up for Moussa Dembele’s first goal, but this is the kind of team Guardiola’s side would beat with ease in the Premier League.

Quite why Guardiola showed this opposition so much respect by changing his formation is beyond pretty much everyone, and it’s clear now he’s developed a strange phobia of this competition that causes him to overthink things. Perhaps that’s now being a bit generous, however, as you could simply argue he just gets it wrong time and time again.

A domestic trophy-winning machine, a hugely intelligent tactical thinker, a man with a squad that would be the envy of almost every other manager at his disposal, and yet he’s looking no closer to delivering the big prize that he’ll have been hired to bring.

How much longer before City have to conclude their quest for European glory might have to been a change in the dugout?

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