As Manchester City filed out against Chelsea in Portugal, both teams knew it was not just a battle for Europe’s finest, but also a clash for whose blue won’t go dark. At the end, the skies for once chose to disagree with a City that has always worn them on their chest.
Manchester City went into the finals as favourites, albeit shaky, and filled with a dangerous pattern of losses to Chelsea. As they sought to add the last one piece to their cabinet, they joined an elite list of first-time failures.
The last 10 years and 9 months have certainly been an eventful one for the Cityzens. Since Sheikh Mansour Bin Zayed Al Nahyan took over the club in September, 2008, they have won 13 league titles and cups, compared to a total of ten prior. A decade of winning and dominating has pushed them closer to the holy grail, the UEFA Champions League.
Pep Guardiola’s appointment in July, 2016 meant the club had one of the best minds in the game on the pitch side. With almost half a decade at the helm, the former Barcelona manager has become the most successful manager in the club’s history. However, critics are still all over the Spaniard.
More than City’s great ambition to win for the first time, it also was an avenue for Guardiola to win the trophy again, for the first time since 2011. With several channels claiming it was more Lionel Messi than the manager’s brilliance.
Whilst the Spaniard agreed with this opinion on several occasions, his desperation to prove it wrong was evident. The opinion grows even stronger, as fans point to the almost £1 billion spent on signings in five years by the manager.
The circumstances surrounding the loss to Chelsea makes the verdict even more damning. Having lost twice this season to Thomas Tuchel prior to the final, a reaction was expected. Guardiola showed more reaction in his press conferences before the final than his team showed in Porto during the match.
Despite the array of talent in the City lineup, they could only muster one shot on target throughout the game, as they looked short of ideas. After only five months in the Chelsea job, Thomas Tuchel made it three wins in three matches against Pep.
A lot of questions have been raised since the conclusion of the final. But the biggest question remains, what next for Guardiola and Manchester City?
Without a doubt, the Pep project has been successful at Manchester City. The club and the manager have shared the same vision of relentless winning thus far. However, after tasting defeat in the UCL final, one expects this feeling to increase the desperation to finally lay hands on the biggest trophy in Europe.
Will the owners continue to trust Guardiola with the job after five years of failure on the continent? He has obviously earned the right to demand that the owners trust him, citing his success at the club. However, there is a feeling that the former Barcelona coach is walking on a thin line at the club for the first time in five years. His performance in next season’s UCL might likely, more than not, determine his future at the club, with more pressure than ever to win it.
If the owners trust him to continue, as expected. He will look to strengthen the squad with more quality. Guardiola arguably has the best squad in Europe in terms of quality in depth. However, there are still obvious deficiencies that need to be addressed.
The manager’s choice of playing with a false 9 in the final didn’t come as a surprise to anyone. Although one would wonder if it was more about not trusting the center strikers in the club’s biggest game than anything tactical. Sergio Kun Aguero is a City legend, but it became clear over time that he wasn’t the manager’s favorite. Gabriel Jesus offers a lot of energy, but lacks the required quality at this moment.
Aguero has left the club as a free agent after the UCL final, joining Barcelona. And this means there is a center forward slot to fill at the club. With Harry Kane, Erling Haaland and Romelu Lukaku all being linked, it is expected that Guardiola will finally get a striker that he would prefer to have on the pitch in the club’s biggest games.
City’s left back role is another major weakness in the team. Kai Havertz’s goal in the final showed why Zichenko isn’t the ideal left back, despite the dynamism he offers from that position. Despite the Ukrainian spotting the German’s run, he lacked the positioning and athleticism to cut out the danger.
Benjamin Mendy started just one match in this season’s UCL run in for City, having failed to deliver since his big money move from Monaco. Guardiola has preferred to start two unnatural left backs (Joao Cancelo and Zincheko) in every other UCL game this season bar one. Showing that he doesn’t trust Mendy for the job.
Ben Chillwell’s performance at the other end of the pitch further exposed City’s left back problems. The English man had Mahrez on strings for the entirety of the match.
Manchester City and Guardiola have tasted defeat for the first time in a UEFA Champions League final. It is a new feeling for them, but they have an opportunity to react next season. Guardiola already sealed his place in the Cityzen’s history. However, how he will be viewed among the elite coaches depends on his reaction to this loss.