What a disappointing end to a Champions League campaign to top off the week from hell. Three consecutive losses and another competition elimination leave the Manchester City faithful with a sorry taste in our mouths after a season of triumph after triumph. Overcoming a three goal deficit without an away goal was always going to be a tall task, but fans rarely think logically and I still held hope that something special was going to happen. In the end, the hill was too large to climb and the reasons why can certainly be debated.
You can’t blame Pep for not going for it in this match, throwing his most attack-minded team on the field from the get-go. Not starting Aguero is a decision that may be criticized but I’m hesitant to blame the result on that. When the lineup was announced, it looked like Fernandinho may be slotting in at left back, assuming that City even fell into a traditional structure. However, this was not the case as Fernandinho played next to Nicolas Otamendi as an attack-minded center back. Aymeric Laporte was on the left as a fullback or outside center back depending on when you looked at the City backline.
The lineup was chosen to maximize the athleticism along the back while also keep the ball out of Liverpool’s possession. But the sheer aggressiveness that City was required to show in this game was their downfall. Liverpool’s first goal came when Fernandinho was caught up in the midfield (not blaming him necessarily, City had to put three in the back of the net). The space between Laporte and Otamendi was vast and gave Mo Salah space to exploit behind Fernandinho. This left the backline in a situation where they were scrambling to recover after Salah moved the ball forward to Sadio Mane, whose first touch was brilliantly put past Otamendi. As you would expect, Mane was able to beat all the City defenders for pace and in the mad scramble in the box, Salah was able to settle and score.
This changed from City to needing 2 goals to 4 goals in a matter of seconds and was a gut punch for the teams and fans alike. With the desperation increased even more, Otamendi made a terrible mistake in a urgent attempt to maintain possession and Roberto Firmino stole the ball somewhat easily and waltzed into the box while Fernandinho was occupied with Salah. His goal put a nail in City’s coffin, if that hadn’t already been done, and made it all the worse because the Sky Blues didn’t even come away with the victory for the day, aggregate score aside.
It all looked so promising from the start too. Gabriel Jesus scored within the first two minutes of the game and City looked tenacious and determined. The lineup Pep went with should have been able to unlock some attacking creativity with a collection of players allowed to interchange with freedom. The first goal really gave me hope, I mean, scoring two goals over 88 minutes is walk in the park for City. But as soon as Bernardo hit that post, the doubt started to creep back in. Those shots tend to go in when momentum is in your favor.
Then the offside call on the Leroy Sane goal just made it all the more frustrating. I thought it was the incorrect call and in the context of the refereeing over the past week increased the collective anger. Who knows how this game may have changed with a second City goal, I don’t even want to go down that rabbit hole. I’m tempted to vent a little here but at this stage, I don’t even know what the point would be, won’t make me feel any better.
Overall, this elimination takes some of the shine off of the season for City even with their greatness in league play. Early exits in the FA Cup and Champions League stick out like a sore thumb on the legacy of this team and I hate that I’m saying that. This may be a knee-jerk reaction to recent events and we will all feel better about everything when the Premier League trophy is eventually lifted. Until then, we can wallow in self pity together.
Also, sorry that this article is primarily one man’s despair with a little bit of analysis sprinkled in. I just didn’t have the heart to go back and try to understand this game any further.