The full-time whistle at the Estadio do Dragao on Saturday night marked 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 make City European champions? Because make no mistake, that was the ultimate goal when he was brought to the club in 2016.
Guardiola’s stint at Bayern Munich, a two-time winner as a coach at Barcelona, was seen as a disappointment after falling short in Europe.
What can Catalan boss Pep Guardiola do to make Manchester City European champions?
That could never be the case at City, where the Catalan has won ten trophies in five seasons and has influenced the way many teams play in the Premier League.
But the Champions League remains the holy grail and Guardiola came tantalizingly close in Chelsea’s 1-0 defeat in Porto.
Failure will not sit comfortably with the 50-year-old obsessive. It has raised questions about this City side and Guardiola will already be looking for the answers.
Guardiola and City came tantalizingly close to European glory in the 1-0 defeat to Chelsea
On paper, a team that has just reclaimed the Premier League title and won the Carabao Cup for the fourth year in a row doesn’t need too much improvement, especially when you consider that City have reached the Champions League final and semi-finals of reached the FA Cup.
But like many great coaches, Guardiola is trying to stay ahead of the game and he knows some changes will have to be made.
“You have to shake, you have to move,” he said before Saturday’s final. “With the same guys it’s almost impossible. After a defeat, a victory, we change, so do I. We’re changing.’ A striker remains the No. 1 priority following the departure of Sergio Aguero, with Tottenham’s Harry Kane and Borussia Dortmund’s Erling Haaland as the two leading candidates.
A striker remains the number 1 priority, with Harry Kane (left) and Erling Haaland as top candidates belangrijkste
City are also fond of Jack Grealish, although that could depend on selling a player to make way for the Aston Villa captain. A left back and central midfielder are other options depending on the departure.
It is clear 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 can continue if that is their wish.
Guardiola has never been one to keep hapless players, although he would rather they stayed and fight for their place, as John Stones have done admirably this season.
City also loves Jack Grealish, although that may depend on a player’s sales to make room
City did very well to get this far without a top striker, as the injured Aguero’s departure became inevitable and doubts about Jesus remained.
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 take strikers so lightly for another season. A top scorer in this team would have the world at his feet and that is not lost to Kane and Haaland.
By bringing in a recognized number 9, City could also play against De Bruyne in his best position on the right side of midfield.
Doubts remain about Gabriel Jesus, and City cannot start another season so light for strikers
One of Guardiola’s greatest assets is his ability to get the most out of a very good group of players season after season; to drive them forth, regardless of past glories.
However, one trophy has eluded him at the Etihad, and now more than ever he needs a response from his players.
City cannot afford to do what Tottenham did in 2019 and disappear after losing the Champions League final – and they are not expected to.
They must be like the Liverpool team that beat the Spurs after suffering the pain of defeat to Real Madrid 12 months earlier.
Saturday was the second all-English final in three years and there is a good chance Premier League teams will play a prominent role in the near future. City should be back, but Guardiola needs his players to use the failure in Porto as inspiration.
Guardiola needs a response from his players now more than ever after their defeat in Porto
stick to the plan
It seems incredible that, after taking responsibility for City’s quarter-final defeat to Lyon last season by changing a tried-and-true line-up at a crucial moment, Guardiola did exactly the same against Chelsea.
Defensive midfielders Fernandinho and Rodri stayed on the bench with top scorer Gundogan asked to screen the back four. By the time Fernandinho came in after more than an hour, it was too late.
Given City’s success since 2016, Guardiola must trust himself and his players. Changing the plan only confuses them and encourages the opposition. Overanalysis has been his downfall and next time he must stick with the team and tactics City have brought so far.
By the time Fernandinho entered Porto after more than an hour, it was too late
Drop the Quad
If anyone can win the quadruple, it’s City. They have competed on four fronts again and again 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 has a price. Inevitably, they fall short and the effort takes its toll on the key players.
Perhaps it is 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 way below their best in Porto. De Bruyne didn’t look long before Antonio Rudiger’s shoulder did the rest.
Guardiola may have to rest more key players like Kevin De Bruyne for the domestic cups