That Manchester City has been a machine under Pep Guardiola is not in doubt. The success of the last two seasons has been unprecedented in English football. Yet, the team has recorded some disappointing results under the Catalan manager. Among some of the worst results posted by the side are Champions League defeats away to Liverpool and Tottenham in the last couple of years. Both defeats, which came when the Blues have played some of the best football in history are very difficult to take. Losing two of the last three derby matchups against Manchester United is as painful.
City’s qualification for the League Cup final was not in doubt after a comprehensive performance that put United to the sword in their own backyard. Marcus Rashford grabbed what seemed like a mere consolation in a 3-1 defeat for the Red Devils. Manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer appeared to be playing to the gallery when speaking of conjuring the spirit of Paris Saint-Germain ahead of the return leg. But to the surprise of many, including City players like Kevin De Bruyne, he pulled off a remarkable 1-0 victory at the Etihad Stadium. City could not find the back of the net even with a man advantage and the team was left barely holding on to qualify 3-2 on aggregate.
That makes Solskjaer only the third manager to inflict a back-to-back defeat on Guardiola’s team at home. The others are long-term foes Jose Mourinho and Jurgen Klopp. But what makes it really fascinating is the fact the Norwegian is overseeing a group of players that cannot be compared to the machines at City. How in the world is this much-maligned United team (one of the worst in the club’s history) beating City?
Yes, De Bruyne can’t understand it too.
“I can’t really comprehend how we lost this game,” De Bruyne said after the match.
But this loss should serve as a stern warning for the team ahead of the Champions League doubleheader against Real Madrid. So far, City under the Catalan boss have not done well in knockout games against top teams. Yet, none do it better than the serial European champions. In fact, if the Blues repeats such a performance against the Spanish giants, they will be taken to the cleaners.
In the end, no one cares which team had more possession of the ball and shots at goal. It’s about having the killer instinct to finish off chances. Keeping the back door closed is also vital. It’s hoped that Aymeric Laporte’s return will help with the latter. But players like Raheem Sterling, Riyad Mahrez, Bernardo Silva and even Sergio Aguero will need to step up at City’s time of need in Europe this season.
Otherwise, there can only be one result when facing Real Madrid in the knockout stages of Europe’s elite competition.