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Man City 1-3 Lyon

Lyon take advantage of another Manchester City stumble

Few gave Rudi Garcia’s men a chance before the game but his energetic young side have proved themselves to be more than a match for the European elite.

Few gave Rudi Garcia’s men a chance before the game but his energetic young side have proved themselves to be more than a match for the European elite.
Franck Fife / POOLEFE

It was billed as a season-defining match for a Manchester City side who have underperformed by their own high standards in the Premier League this year. There were questions too about the progress made in Europe under Pep Guardiola and the three-time winner was asked in the pre-match press conference about his recent struggles in the Champions League.

“Every year the same questions,” said the City boss. “The pressure is always there, we just have to do our best. The quarter-finals we have seen so far have been tight, with little between the teams, and I don’t think ours will be an exception.”

In that respect at least, he was proved correct. As is often the case in big games there was an unexpected inclusion from Guardiola as 19-year-old Eric Garcia made his first start since revealing that he would not be signing a new contract with the club. The City boss opted to match Lyon’s back three with Kevin de Bruyne employed as an inside forward for the most important game of their season.

City's gamble punished

The early stages passed with little incident, two sides in matching formations seeming to cancel each other out. But midway through the first half Guardiola’s gamble was punished. City’s backline, playing in an unfamiliar configuration, became fractured for a second as wing-back Kyle Walker momentarily dropped behind his central defenders. That was enough to play Karl Toko Ekambi onside and when he was dispossessed the loose ball dropped to Maxwel Cornet, who curled the ball past Ederson from distance.

It was Cornet’s sixth goal in his Champions League career but the fourth to have come against City, having scored in both of last year’s fixtures between the two sides. After taking just one point from those encounters, the omens looked bad for City.

Guardiola’s side struggled to make an impression in the first 45 minutes and were reliant on flashes of inspiration from De Bruyne to spark them into life. City’s trademark pull-backs were easily snuffed out and the Belgian’s outstanding moment, a beautiful arcing pass with the outside of his right boot, could not be converted by the on-rushing Raheem Sterling.

Guardiola rings the changes

It was a first-half performance from Manchester City that belied the significance of the tie and the attacking fluency that has marked Guardiola’s time in charge. It took just ten second-half minutes for the Spaniard to call for reinforcements as Riyad Mahrez replaced the already-cautioned Fernandinho and their more familiar 4-3-3 returned.

The Algerian brought new impetus to the City attack and with just 20 minutes remaining it was his clipped through ball that sent Sterling charging into the Lyon penalty box. Sterling checked, paused and slid the ball to De Bruyne who fired emphatically past Anthony Lopes. The quality of the City attack had made its mark, the tie appeared to have swung back in their favour.

But as is becoming a trend in City’s Champions League travails, their optimism was quickly cut short by a marginal VAR decision that cost them dearly. Lyon roused themselves after conceding and began to offer more of a threat going forward with substitute Moussa Dembélé providing a constant out-ball. A hopeful through-ball from Houssem Aouar found Dembélé sprinting in on goal and he kept his composure to poke home through the legs of Ederson. Replays seemed to suggest that the former Celtic striker had tripped Aymeric Laporte in the build-up but the officials were unconvinced and the goal stood.

With the score at 2-1 with ten minutes remaining the game seemed poised for a City onslaught but then came a 59-second spell that highlighted the fragility that has dogged City in Europe for years. First, a great piece of play from Gabriel Jesus found Sterling his favourite poaching spot, alone at the back-post in front of a gaping goal. Yet at this crucial moment the 31-goal forward blazed the chance over the bar and into the empty stands.

But it soon got worse. Lyon seemed to sense blood and went on the offensive. Aouar found some space on the edge of the box and flighted a weak effort toward Ederson’s goal. Seemingly suffering from the same lapse of concentration that had just blighted his teammate, the Brazilian pushed the ball back out in front of him and to the feet Dembélé again. He prodded home and City’s fate was decided.

A late free-kick from De Bruyne and a header from Walker came close, but the writing was on the wall. There has never previously been two French sides in the semi-finals of the Champions League but this season’s single-legged straight knock-out edition is very much a competition of firsts.

At the full-time whistle Sterling and Jesus lay prone on the turf, as if unwilling to open their eyes and take it all in as Lyon celebrated a most deserved of victories. City were out and they were through, a genuine football feel-good story that will continue into the final four.

The seventh-best team in France alongside the Qatari investment fund, the Bavarian powerhouse and the soft-drink empire. Lyon’s league performance this season looked certain to have cost them a place in European competition for the first time since 1997, but successive victories over Juventus and City has cast doubt on that. Their greatest challenge will come next Wednesday when they face a Bayern side who look imperious having just put eight past Barcelona. But if the last week of action is anything to go by, you would be a fool to rule Lyon out.


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