Man City can disprove tired cliches during Premier League run-in and beyond

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Mentality. Weak character. They need to get over it.

Those are all words and phrases that have been banded about over the days since Manchester City’s dramatic Champions League exit at the hands of Real Madrid. Perhaps it’s only natural that we as football supporters and journalists demand the most damning of explanations for the most shocking of collapses, but in this instance, the glove just doesn’t fit.

Asked on Friday whether City had suffered some sort of mental collapse between the first and second Real Madrid goals – scored 89 seconds apart – Guardiola launched into a fascinating and passionate dissection of the criticisms leveled at his players.

“There is no time for [it to be] mental,” he said of the reason for City conceding two goals in quick succession. “It was 45 seconds.

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“There is no time to fail. That’s why when we speak about analysis and data, how does that control how players feel in that moment?

“What happened? It’s football. It’s football. Now the people say lack of character. Lack of character? What happens if Grealish scores? It’s character? What happened when Edi [Ederson] saved from [Angel] Correa against Atletico? That’s character but if he scores it’s no character. When Courtois saves with his feet and goes to the corner, that is no character?

The fact that City gave the ball straight back to Madrid from the kick-off after the first goal has drawn criticism – deservedly so – but Guardiola refused to believe that this was down to some kind of mental or character flaw.

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“Margins are this, we have to handle it,” he said. “Maybe we have more time after the kick-off, know exactly when to go long ball from Ederson. You play with emotions, emotions are uncontrollable. At that moment emotions favored Real Madrid.”

What this all boils down to is that football is played by human beings in highly pressurized situations. Yes, they are professional athletes who have undergone rigorous training in order to prepare for such occasions, but ultimately they are susceptible to emotions just like the rest of us.

It’s easy to pin City’s implosion on poor mentality or a lack of characters and leadership, but really all that does is buy into tired and lazy clichés. As Guardiola explained, City showed plenty of ‘character’ in scrapping their way through the quarter-final second leg against Atletico.

Last season they showed great mentality in fighting on four fronts right up until April. While it is true that both things matter in football, to say that City are lacking in either is ludicrous.

City did not perform well in Madrid, but until the final minute of the 90, they had managed Madrid sufficiently. When Madrid scored, they were best placed to go on and progress. As Guardiola said, it could have easily gone the other way.

“Football in this competition is momentum. The players in the Premier League know they have another game. This competition there is no time. It happened immediately. Madrid deserve it because they’re in the final, if we scored more and defended properly like the first goal from Rodrygo, [then] we [would have] deserved it.”

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City now have four games standing between them and a fourth league title in five seasons. The players will not be able to forget the trauma of Madrid, but over the upcoming games they can rubbish any criticisms of their mentality.

“I know the players in the training sessions, meetings, warm-ups how committed they’ll be, I have no doubt,” Guardiola said. “It’s football. 22 players moving with the ball, with emotions, good things, bad things, mistakes, at the end, after extra time that’s it.”

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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