I’ve said, time and again, over the last few years that Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City are bottlers in the Champions League and they proved me right in embarrassingly graphic fashion on Wednesday night.
Only they can explain how they lost a tie they were winning 5-3 heading into injury-time, but then we’ve seen it before from them.
Harsh thought this sounds, they simply can’t take the heat in the Champions League.
To be honest, part of me was disappointed to see City implode against Real Madrid in the semi-final, as I thought Liverpool would have too much for them psychologically in the final in Paris.
Yet what we saw from City as they conceded two goals in injury-time at the Bernabeu, and then gave away a penalty to throw away a place in the final of the biggest competition of them all confirmed everything I feel about them.
They have all the money in the world, and can buy a bench-warmer for £100million in Jack Grealish, yet when push and shove collide in the competition they are so desperate to win, City crack every time.
Guardiola has spent over £1billion in the transfer market since he arrived at the club – and all he has to show for it in the Champions League is a single appearance in the final.
That came last season when they failed to turn up against Chelsea – and we saw something similar the year before, when they crashed out against a bang-average Lyon side.
They threw away a winning position against Tottenham the year before that – and clearly this club has too many scars to get over the finishing line in the Champions League.
This is now a serious problem for City and they won’t be able to solve it any time soon.
As I watched them blow up at the Bernabeu, I was reminded of an event with Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp and City boss Pep Guardiola a few years back. Both of them went up on stage and spoke impressively.
Klopp was funny, engaging and humble and Guardiola was very good as well.
Yet you could sense the desperation in the City manager to get his hands on the Champions League trophy when he spoke.
He’s won everything else and he needs a Champions League success, without Messi at his side, badly.
That desperation is rubbing off on his players and we saw that against Real Madrid. City were cruising in that game, they had a two-goal lead and were in complete control of the tie heading into extra time.
Then Real Madrid scored – and you could sense the panic rippling through the team.
The second goal was not far behind and once the tie went into extra time, there was only going to be one winner.
When it comes to the knockout phase of the Champions League next season, that memory will haunt them.
So much so, that with each passing year the baggage they are taking into the competition is weighing them down, and now I would ask this question – what happens if City fluff their lines in the Premier League and finish the season without a trophy?
Even after their horror show in Madrid, I fully expect them to beat Newcastle at the Etihad Stadium today, but there is no doubt they have mental hurdles to overcome.
If Newcastle score first this afternoon, panic might break out in the City ranks once again – and while they are clearly a great team, they are also mentally fragile when the pressure is applied.
Is that Guardiola’s fault or the players?
It’s a question we can’t answer, but I wonder what kind of pressure Guardiola would be under if City also blow the Premier League title?
Suggesting they should sack Guardiola seems crazy after he has won so much in recent years, but they need a manager who can get them over the finishing line in the Champions League, or else they won’t be respected as a genuinely big club.
Liverpool are now preparing for their tenth European Cup final against opponents that have won the competition 13 times.
These are two genuine superpowers of the world club game. Even if City have enough spare change to buy Liverpool and merge them with Real Madrid, they still can’t get near winning the Champions League.
City will beat Newcastle today and most likely win their final four matches and take the Premier League title, but that will not erase the hurt of what happened in Madrid.
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