Manchester City showed they lack sparkle after their FA Cup defeat to Chelsea… Pep Guardiola’s men have been superb this season but are crying out for a world class forward ahead of a HUGE week against Spurs and PSG
- Manchester City’s quadruple dreams were ended by Chelsea on Saturday night
- Pep Guardiola’s men looked off-colour as they were beaten by the Blues 1-0
- It’s clear that City are lacking a world class forward to boost them in big games
- They will still have a great season but Guardiola will be wary of further set-backs
- City face Spurs in the cup final while PSG are menacing opponents in Europe
In all likelihood, this will still be a momentous season for Manchester City. A third Premier League title in four years will soon be collected. A Champions League semi-final looms and the League Cup final is imminent next weekend.
Manchester United under Sir Alex Ferguson used to have disappointments like these. The kind of setback where an unprecedented quadruple falls by the wayside and you feel like your bubble has been burst. What United, or any side, would give for a season like this now?
And yet, this was a significant disappointment for City and Pep Guardiola. All along, the coach has downplayed the prospect of winning every trophy his team was competing for this season. As he should. That’s how it is when you’re facing the public questions and trying to get your players merely to focus on the next game.
Manchester City have been superb this season and missing out on a quadruple is not a disaster
And yet, knowing the greedy accumulator of trophies Guardiola is, he must have eyed up all four. He wouldn’t have dropped his guard to us to let us know. But he is an insatiable collector of records.
His joy at breaking reaching the symbolic 100-point barrier in the Premier League in 2018, when the title had been decided months before, demonstrated that. Given the quality he has at his disposal, the maturity his team showed at Borussia Dortmund last week, they will doubtless pick themselves up, dust themselves down and dispose of Aston Villa on Wednesday.
And yet, then comes an intriguing run of games. Tottenham in their current state in the Carabao Cup final with Harry Kane possibly out, shouldn’t hold too many fears. And yet, his nemesis Jose Mourinho, stands in the way of the first trophy of the season. It seems unlikely he could pull off one last feat of defying Guardiola, but maybe, like Samson at his death, Jose might just bring the whole building crashing down on his foe?
But Pep Guardiola is a greedy boss and will be wary their amazing campaign could fizzle out
And then there is Mauricio Pochettino to face, Paris St Germain with Neymar and Kylian Mbappé. Pochettino of course is another old adversary and has stopped Guardiola in his Champions League tracks before, back in that dramatic contentious quarter-final in 2019.
The issue for Guardiola is, superb though City have been since Christmas, there is a distinct lack of sparkle now that Sergio Aguero is in semi-retirement mode. They have no-one like Neymar, nor Mbappe. Not Raheem Sterling in this form, restored to the team but underwhelming again; not Gabriel Jesus, capable but no more; not Ferran Torres, so anonymous he was withdrawn on 63 minutes.
Restoring Riyad Mahrez and Phil Foden, who shone when he came on, to the starting line-up would make a difference, of course. But it’s hard to win the Champions League without a truly great forward. PSG have at least two.
They lack a world class forward, and upcoming opponents PSG have two – Neymar (left) and Kylian Mbappe (right)
And this was a thoroughly-deserved win for Chelsea in a largely non-descript match. It’s a familiar refrain this season and perhaps inevitable. Ask professional footballers to play non-stop football twice a week for eleven months, with a short month-long break for respite, and the quality will suffer eventually.
Some games are superb despite the unusually intense season. We’ve just enjoyed a superb week of Champions League ties with absorbing fixtures between City and Dortmund and Paris St Germain and Bayern Munich.
But the chances are, if you keep going back asking for more, the reserves of energy and entertainment capacity will be ever diminishing. Not that the major clubs seems to appreciate the point, as push on with an expanded Champions League from 2024. There’s no product over exposed enough that they can’t squeeze a bit more cash from it.
Chelsea and Manchester City players seemed determined to make the point emphatically to a teatime terrestrial TV audience of millions, that more content doesn’t always mean more entertainment. We expected a clash of two of the best-performing sides in Europe – and UEFA might have been hiding behind the sofa if they contemplated this could be their end-of-season extravaganza of a Champions League final.
City and Chelsea contested a stale contest, but the Blues came up with the quality as Hakim Ziyech netted the only goal of the game
Alan Shearer predicted a classic. The sides are well-matched and the two coaches, equally obsessive on the details of the game, ferociously intelligent. Thomas Tuchel and Pep Guardiola once confided in each other at a private dinner at a Michelin starred Munich restaurant six years ago, when the German was an up-and-coming challenger and the Catalan was Bayern Munich manager. So they ought to have been serving up a tactical feast. But this was stale fare, a stolid spread rather than haute cuisine.
We got there in the end. After a turgid first half, enlivened only by Hakim Ziyech’s disallowed goal and Ben Chilwell’s misjudged strike after Reece James had made good progress down the right, events unfolded in the second half.
First there was the departure of Kevin De Bruyne on 47 minutes, like Kane on Friday night, turning his ankle and limping off. Then there was the breakthrough, Mason Mount at the heart of it, as fitting. Of the few insights one could glean from the opening 45 minutes, the constant fouling of Mount by Fernandinho suggested that, at 35, these maybe the twilight days in the Brazilian’s run of being the Premier League’s dominant midfielder.
Losing Kevin de Bruyne was a big blow for City ahead of their cup final against Spurs next week
It was Mount’s clever pass, which set off Timo Werner and the German’s cross-field ball which allowed Ziyech to score for good this time. That at least prompted a response from City.
A contest ensued, City though were still far short of their slick, creative best. Shorn of De Bruyne, Foden took up the mantle. Yet this was a clunky City, looking like a tired marathon runner going through the motions in the final stages of a race.
It was still Chelsea who had the best chances, Ziyech missing the chance to finish it on the hour and Werner racing through on 77 minutes, only to shoot tamely at Zack Steffen.
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