Pep Guardiola has been slammed for “bottling” Manchester City’s FA Cup semi-final 3-2 defeat to Liverpool after deciding to rotate his starting XI.
Guardiola made seven changes to his starting line-up for the clash on Saturday, which arrived just three days after Man City secured their passage into the last four of the Champions League with a 1-0 aggregate victory over Atletico Madrid. That included leaving Kevin de Bruyne, Ederson and Riyad Mahrez on the bench.
The Catalan watched his side get obliterated by a clinical Liverpool side in the first half, with a header from Ibrahima Konate and Sadio Mane’s double putting the Reds in full control at 3-0 up at the interval. City staged a second-half fightback with goals from Jack Grealish and Bernardo Silva, but the tricky task proved to be too steep.
Guardiola explained that fixture congestion had given him no choice but to rotate, with the likes of Zack Steffen and Oleksandr Zinchenko given rare run-outs. ”I have a lot of confidence in my players and the selection, I trust a lot of them," he said. "We had it terrible in terms of fixtures and travel and a lot of important games. That’s why we needed fresh legs."
But his reasoning proved to be unacceptable for one City fan who called in to radio station talkSPORT to vent their frustration with the 51-year-old. In a discussion with former Aston Villa striker Gabriel Agbonlahor, he accused Guardiola of downing tools because he had resigned himself to defeat before a ball had even been kicked.
"I'm really disappointed because I think that Guardiola is a bottle job," the fan, named Mark, said. "He bottled it in the Champions League final [in 2021] and he's bottled it again tonight. He's changed the team because he's afraid to lose and [Jurgen] Klopp is not scared to win. That’s what’s happened."
HAVE YOUR SAY: Did Pep Guardiola "bottle" Man City's FA Cup semi-final against Liverpool? Comment below.
Liverpool fielded arguably their strongest lineup, with Mohamed Salah and Virgil van Dijk amongst those included in Jurgen Klopp’s XI. But the Reds had the virtue of being able to rest some of their stars for their Champions League second leg against Benfica, having done the hard work in the first tie by winning 3-1. Agbonlahor argued that the Reds had a luxury that was not afforded to Guardiola.
But the fan continued to rant about the City coach — despite leading the club to three Premier League titles in the last four seasons — and singled out City’s tactical gamble against Chelsea in the Champions League final in May 2021 as another example of his lack of confidence. "Before the Champions League final, it was going superbly. The team was great. You get to the final and he changes the whole team and they lose," he added. "He did it today against Liverpool because he knows he can't win the game. He's bottled it against Liverpool because he knows Liverpool are the better team. He changed the team so he's got an excuse to lose."
Guardiola may not mind a few dissenting voices, however, with his side currently on course to land a fourth league title under his management and a Champions League semi-final against Real Madrid to negotiate. For his sake, one can only hope the 2008-09 treble winner doesn’t buckle underneath the pressure.
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