When explaining his team’s relentless form last week, Pep Guardiola said Manchester City’s biggest opponent was themselves.
“I said many times – with all respect to our opponents – we play against us, this is the target,” he explained. “We have to perform for ourselves as high as possible.”
This is a mindset that has City on course for a fourth Premier League title in five seasons and in prime form heading into Tuesday’s Champions League last-16 encounter with Sporting.
However, on the Blues’ previous visit to Estadio Jose Alvalade, they were not so much their biggest opponents as their own worst enemies.
Lyon were deserved 3-1 winners in the 2020 Champions League quarter-final – a nightmare night when everything went wrong for City.
When they return to the scene of the crime tonight, three members of the traveling party, in particular, might feel they have some demons to slay.
The inimitable Brazilian goalkeeper is arguably Guardiola’s best and most important signing since joining City but he had the mother of all shockers against Lyon.
Ederson ambled out of his goal when Karl Toko Ekambi sprung City’s flimsy offside trap and was caught in no man’s land as Maxwel Cornet steered home the opener from outside the area.
City’s No.1 then got plenty of his leg behind Moussa Dembele’s shot but could not keep it out when Lyon restored their lead in the 79th minute.
Ederson was most guilty shortly afterwards, spilling Houssem Aouar’s shot for Dembele to score his second and settle the contest. However, in the meantime, something else dreadful had occurred…
Sterling had enjoyed the most prolific season of his career in 2019/20, with 31 goals in all competitions. He had also been one of the few bright sparks in a listless City performance against Lyon.
So who better to receive the chance to make it 2-2 and send the game into extra time?
Well, for all his vast qualities, Raheem does have an unfortunate catalog of missed sitters. This one, where he fired over an open goal from six yards after being picked out by Riyad Mahrez, was the worst of the bunch.
Buoyed by a hat-trick against Norwich at the weekend, Sterling would love to be on target at a ground where his anguish was there for all to see a couple of summers ago.
For all that individual errors from Ederson, Sterling and others were to blame for City’s loss, the template within which they occurred remains something that is hard to fathom.
Guardiola has a reputation for a maverick Champions League teamsheet here and there but there is usually a logic to be found. Even the much-maligned decision to face Chelsea without a specialist holding midfielder had some reason behind it. Ilkay Gundogan had played there before (not so much for two years, but anyway…) and quick, sharp passing was the best way to try to pick apart Thomas Tuchel’s side.
Against Lyon, Pep opted to match up the 3-4-3 setup that had caused his team problems that season, while also being wary of the Ligue 1’s side threat on the counter-attack.
They promptly scored three times on the break as an array of square pegs in round holes undid Guardiola. Dropping the veteran Fernandinho into the back three never seemed like an optimal way to deal with a pacy attack.
Kyle Walker would have been better suited to that brief, rather than the wing-back role where he struggled to instigate attacks. Joao Cancelo’s City career was in his infancy and he tended to make the Blues narrower rather than opening up attacks when he played on the left. That was certainly the case here.
Matters improved when Mahrez replaced Fernandinho and City reverted to their usual 4-3-3 – Sterling, Gabriel Jesus and goalscorer Kevin De Bruyne no longer being so isolated – although the vulnerabilities to the counter-attack were every bit as bad as feared.
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John Stones, Bernardo Silva, Phil Foden and Oleksandr Zinchenko all looked like obvious candidates to improve a dire situation, yet all remained unused substitutes.
It is hard to think of any night where Guardiola has got so much wrong, or indeed one that comes remotely close. It is time to set the record straight.
Do you think the Lyon game was Pep Guardiola’s worst in charge of Manchester City? Follow City Is Ours editor Dom Farrell on Twitter to get involved in the discussion and give us your thoughts in the comments section below.