Premier League: Pep may be to blame but now is not the time to do so

Pep Guardiola's Champions League record, since Barcelona, continues to haunt him but as John Roycroft points out, there is little time for the Catalonian to lick his wounds with the battle for the Premier League still ongoing
Premier League: Pep may be to blame but now is not the time to do so

 Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola shows his frustration at the Bernabeu Stadium on Wednesday. Picture: Martin Rickett/PA Wire.

ITS regularity has resulted in his sideline reactions becoming popular internet memes.

Pep Guardiola's post-Barcelona record in the Champions League has been a point of horror or hilarity, depending on your allegiance regarding the charismatic Catalonian.

Anyone looking at Guardiola's recent Champion League record at Man City (not even counting his Bayern Munich disappointments) will quickly see the heartbreaking nature of his side's defeats in the world's premier club cup competition.

  • 2017: Knocked out to Monaco R16. 
  • 2018: Knocked out to Liverpool in the quarter-final. 
  • 2019: Knocked out to Spurs quarter-final. 
  • 2020: Knocked out to Lyon QF. 
  • 2021: Knocked out by Chelsea in the final. 
  • 2022: Knocked out by Real Madrid semi-final.

Well, it looks rotten and maybe even a source of embarrassment when listed like that. But to be fair, for any other club, the achievement of any one of those years on the list would be beyond their wildest dreams just once, not to mind on an annual basis. But then again, with the investment City have committed to Champions League success and the insatiable desire Guardiola has shown for the competition, it's understandable why the list, and especially last Wednesday's result, must tear at the very soul of the man many believe to be one of the most gifted coaches in the history of the game.

Calling for heads

Leading 5-3 on aggregate and heading into the 90th minute of the game, anyone in their right mind had City booking flights to Paris on May 28. But in a sequence of events over an insane two minutes, Rodrygo would score twice to force extra time, and from that point, there seemed to be only one winner, as the shellshocked City gave away the winning penalty converted by the machine-like Karim Benzema.

Real Madrid's Karim Benzema celebrates after scoring his side's third goal during the Champions League semi-final, second leg soccer match against Manchester City at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium in Madrid, Spain, Picture: AP Photo/Manu Fernandez
Real Madrid's Karim Benzema celebrates after scoring his side's third goal during the Champions League semi-final, second leg soccer match against Manchester City at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium in Madrid, Spain, Picture: AP Photo/Manu Fernandez

The rest of extra time was a lesson on how to close out a game by Real. Something which City unequivocally failed to do in normal time, over both legs.

Of course, in social media and a few of the radio call-ins, there have been the usual antagonistic calls for Pep's head, but any rational-minded City fan must still see the huge advances Guardiola has brought to the club.

But do the extremes of fandom have any grounds to seek his dismissal?

Overthinking

He has been accused of overthinking his role as a coach. Making tactical changes for the sake of changes rather than what was required on the field. He's been accused of smothering his players too, not allowing them the room to break from his tactical framework and express themselves, their way, at critical times. Maybe the intensity Guardiola brings to his coaching leaves his players so uptight that when the crunch comes they are overwhelmed. But then again, that intensity also has put together a tight-knit unit that has rolled out a couple of 20-game winning runs.

Referee Daniele Orsato speaks with Manchester City's Kevin De Bruyne (left) and Bernardo Silva during the UEFA Champions League semi-final, second leg match at the Santiago Bernabeu, Madrid. Picture: Nick Potts/PA Wire
Referee Daniele Orsato speaks with Manchester City's Kevin De Bruyne (left) and Bernardo Silva during the UEFA Champions League semi-final, second leg match at the Santiago Bernabeu, Madrid. Picture: Nick Potts/PA Wire

Some have criticised his substitutions on Wednesday night. Taking-off Kyle Walker, Kevin de Bruyne, Gabriel Jesus, and Riyad Maherez before the job was done. This is a bit harsh, Walker was flat out exhausted. De Bruyne looked like he picked up a knock. As for the rest, with 10 minutes remaining and a Newcastle game in the Premier League on the horizon, he took the chance to rest a few. It's not like those who came on were lightweights. Jurgen Klopp did the same the night before when he felt comfortable enough to roll out the changes against Villarreal.

I suspect, that if Guardiola steers City back to a Champions League semi-final in the future, he might be a bit more circumspect about who he takes off before the final whistle.

Task ahead

There remains an important task for Man City still. They have the considerable prize available to them of retaining the Premier League title, and speaking after Wednesday's defeat, Guardiola admitted his team would need a couple of days to come to terms with the loss. Before they face Newcastle tomorrow "We need one or two days but we will rise, we will come up," he said.

"We will have to do so, with our people. We did everything we could. We were really, really, close but in the end, we could not do it."

Sport and life are unfair, even to the well-financed, and there is no doubt that whatever luck City and Guardiola have had in the Champions League it's been bad.

Manchester City's Bernardo Silva stands dejected during the UEFA Champions League semi-final, second leg match at the Santiago Bernabeu, Madrid. Picture: Nick Potts/PA Wire.
Manchester City's Bernardo Silva stands dejected during the UEFA Champions League semi-final, second leg match at the Santiago Bernabeu, Madrid. Picture: Nick Potts/PA Wire.

Guardiola took the risk to sacrifice the FA Cup and League Cup so as to secure European glory. That lies in ashes now, but there is a not-insignificant prize still available to the Cityzens.

It may seem ridiculous that winning the Premier League may now come as an anticlimax for City fans and maybe even for the players and Guardiola. But the team and coach need to get their head right after the midweek trauma as a slip-up now in the league would undoubtedly increase those calls for the Catalonian's head.

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