IAN LADYMAN: City pay price for mishmash at the back in Lyon defeat

IAN LADYMAN: Man City have paid the price for a mishmash at the back… square pegs in round holes contribute to Champions League woe as Fernandinho is forced to play out of position with John Stones having lost his way under Pep Guardiola

  • Pep Guardiola must now take responsibility for defensive failings after Lyon loss
  • There was no cohesion between Aymeric Laporte, Fernandinho and Eric Garcia
  • City’s board must admit they were wrong to ignore hole left by Vincent Kompany
  • Fernandinho is a fine midfielder, but in defence he has become a scapegoat 

Among other things, Manchester City were undone by a familiar problem. Heaps of money allied to the presence of the most feted coach of the modern European era has still not been enough to build a team that can defend properly.

The shape of Pep Guardiola’s defence in Lisbon was worthy of discussion but so too were the personnel.

City went into the biggest game of their season with three centre halves. One — the Frenchman Aymeric Laporte — is Guardiola’s best defender but what of the other two? Fernandinho is a central midfielder player desperately trying to fill a hole and Eric Garcia a teenager who wants to leave the club. Is it any wonder Lyon found a way through?

It is no wonder an inspired Lyon side found a way through a suspect Manchester City defence

On the substitutes’ bench, meanwhile, sat John Stones, once the most talked about central defender in England. Now 26, he has lost his way at City and Guardiola has not been able to improve him. Next to him was the Argentine Nicolas Otamendi, a player who has won seven major trophies during his time at the club but who, at 32, has his best years behind him.

This mishmash of defensive resources has troubled City all season. It is the main reason why Guardiola’s team scored more than 100 goals in the league but still finished second to Liverpool by the length of the East Lancs Road.

It has been mentioned that City erred last summer by not replacing Vincent Kompany but this is a problem that has bothered City for years. A club that has largely bought creative players brilliantly in the Abu Dhabi era has not recruited anywhere near as well at the other end of the field.

The list is long and not particularly distinguished, including expensive and largely unsuccessful players like Eliaquim Mangala, Martin Demichelis, Matija Nastasic, Stefan Savic and Jerome Boateng. The last two have proved themselves subsequently but were unimpressive at City.

Pep Guardiola neglects the defensive side of the game and made baffling choices in Lisbon

So if City have had a blind spot when it comes to recruiting central defenders, it is hurting them now. So, too, it seems is a failure to bring any of real merit through their youth academy.

A few years ago, the club hoped that young graduate Tosin Adarabioyo would be the heir apparent to Kompany but the closest the 22-year-old has come to making an impact has been during a successful loan spell at Blackburn Rovers. He is yet to play a minute for his parent club.

The relevance of all of this to what happened on Saturday night should not be overlooked. Yes, there were other factors against Lyon. Why wasn’t Phil Foden given an opportunity? What has happened to Bernardo Silva? Should Lyon’s second goal have been allowed to stand?

Guardiola and the City board made a terrible mistake by failing to replace Vincent Kompany 

But City’s lack of defensive certainty and structure — their recruitment of full backs has also been unreliable — contributed as their Champions League hopes fell apart so dramatically. It is this that has led to Guardiola placing square pegs in round holes so often and it is this that once again caused a ripple effect throughout the team.

For the umpteenth time, Guardiola felt forced to take his best holding player — the excellent Fernandinho — away from his natural position and into a defensive role to which he is not suited. He can read the game but is not tall and is not quick. That’s a score of one out of three for a centre half and Fernandinho’s presence at the back weakens City just as much as his absence from the centre of the field. And people wonder why things went wrong.

The upshot is that City have been left staring at their shoes again when it comes to their standing among the elite company of the European game.

Ederson’s error leading to Lyon’s third goal highlighted lack of understanding in City’s defence

Previously, it has felt a little disappointing in the Champions League. A semi-final loss to Real Madrid under Manuel Pellegrini in 2016 and quarter-final exits in breathless ties against Tottenham (2019) and Liverpool (2018) are the kind of things that can happen. But this one? It all felt awkwardly embarrassing, so poor were Guardiola’s team.

The manager will take his share of the blame. When you make the kind of calls he made in Lisbon — when you pick a team like that — and it doesn’t come off then it is pretty much on you.

But for an elite level football club, Manchester City simply do not have enough world-class defenders.

There are other people within the organisation who should today be asking themselves questions about that.

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