Pep Guardiola has declared that he is happy with Manchester City’s performance in the Champions League so far, despite the 2-1 loss to RB Leipzig. But that is likely because the team already qualified for the next round with a game to spare.
Losing hurts, and a feeling of frustration could be seen exhibited by the players towards the later stages of the game in Germany. From Kyle Walker to Raheem Sterling, City players were seen committing needless fouls.
Worse still was the fact that the game lacked the usual stamp of authority the Blues are now known to exert. Some may explain that away as a result of having nothing to play for. And there’s a fair point there.
But Guardiola’s selection of a fairly strong starting XI for the match shows that he still wanted to win it despite having already qualified for the next round.
So the defeat did not come because the players were okay with a loss. They definitely played to win like the manager said at the end of the game. It just happened that they lost.
With that said, here are three key lessons from the surprise defeat in Germany.
1. Bernardo Silva is the New King
Kevin De Bruyne has carried the team for so long. The Belgian has been Guardiola’s main man for the better part of the Catalan manager’s time at the Etihad Stadium. But Ilkay Gundogan stood out last term especially in the Premier League.
The German carried the team when De Bruyne struggled with injuries. He scored vital goals that secured much needed points to propel the team to glory land.
However, City’s success this season will most likely depend on new heroes. Players like Joao Cancelo, Rodri, and Ruben Dias have been outstanding. But it is Bernardo Silva that is reigning as king.
No wonder then that the Portuguese has won the club’s Player of the Month award back-to-back.
His absence in the game was clearly felt as the Blues struggled to exert their usual control, especially in the first half. It was a game that needed tireless runners and hardworkers. Silva is second to none in the team at the moment when it comes to those qualities.
2. Discipline is Vital
Kyle Walker exhibited unusual behaviour when he kicked RB Leipzig's striker Andre Silva minutes after he scored his team’s second goal of the game. That earned the City defender a straight red card.
Consequently, Walker will not be available for selection in City’s next game in the competition. The punishment could even be increased depending on how UEFA’s disciplinary committee views the incident.
The effect is that the team will have to suffer for Walker’s rash decision. As has been demonstrated in the past, Guardiola frowns at players who get themselves sent off. One reason for that may be that his teams find things really difficult when playing with a man down.
Two games come to mind where the team was leading 2-0 only to throw away a two-goal lead after a player was sent off. The worst part is this lead turned into a 3-2 loss in both cases. One was against Wolves two seasons back and the other against Brighton last term.
For the second game, Cancelo was sent off just 10 minutes into the match at the AMEX Stadium. Despite racing to a 2-0 lead, City ended up losing the game 3-2.
With just a week to the Champions League final, it could be argued that the incident contributed to the manager’s decision to bench the Portuguese right-back in the final.
3. There is Still Work to Be Done on the Mental Side
Having a strong mentality is always important especially in the later stages of a tough competition like the Champions League. Therefore, the manager will need to work on his players to get stronger mentally in order to be able to deal with situations such as cases where the team is behind in games.
Sure, in the past the players have demonstrated their ability to come back from losing positions to win games. At some point in the match it appeared a comeback was on the cards after Riyad Mahrez' goal.
Yet, once it became clear RB Leipzig were not going to let up, some of the City players began to show signs of frustration.
Managing such difficult situations in tough games is a hallmark of teams that end up winning the competition. So Guardiola will need to drill his boys on how to keep their cool even in the most hostile conditions.
They need to stick to their principles (and not lose their heads) in order to achieve their aim.