Match Coverage

Fernandinho isn’t the man he used to be and Pep Guardiola is nearly there but not just yet: What We Learned from Monaco vs. Man City

Manchester City's Spanish manager Pep Guardiola reacts during the UEFA Champions League round of 16 football match between Monaco and Manchester City at the Stade Louis II in Monaco on March 15, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / Valery HACHE        (Photo credit should read VALERY HACHE/AFP/Getty Images)

Manchester City were brought back down to earth last night with a 3-1 humbling at the hands of Monaco. City crashed out of the Champions League on away goals – the first time Guardiola has exited the competition before the semi-finals. All that is left for City now is the FA Cup and the chance of finishing second in the league.

Anis looks backs on the defeat and draws a few conclusions:

 Nearly there but not just yet.

If two matches encapsulated Manchester City’s entire season then the two legs versus Monaco would be it. Very good in parts, bad in others but overall, not just there, yet.

We have seen a remarkably improved Manchester City side in the past two months or so with yesterday’s defeat being their first since the 4-0 loss to Everton. Pep Guardiola has finally found a formation, structure and most importantly, a front-line that he can rely on and the results that ensued restored confidence in the man who everyone expected so much of.

But as any City fan will tell you, it’s come too late or rather – there’s only so much you can do with some of these players. They are simply not compatible with the hopes and aspirations Guardiola has for this club. Our horrendous set of full-backs, two average goalkeepers, a perennially crocked captain and three error-prone centre-halves. There is little foundation to build a team on and the rumours that Pep will completely overhaul a defence which has let him down this summer is hardly surprising. City might seem like a very good team these days but that’s only because Guardiola has managed to squeeze every drop out of some of his players.

A first half embarrassment

For a man with the best European record of any coach after 100 games, Guardiola’s away record in knock-out games leaves a lot to be desired. It is perhaps the kryptonite to his genius, the hook that prevents him from ascending well above every other coach in the world. Guardiola has managed four wins, ten draws and seven defeats in away matches in the knockout stages of competition. Yesterday’s first half makes a baffling-looking record look a lot more sane.

I think everyone appreciated coming in that this was by no means an easy tie and the two goals City had on Monaco from the crazy first leg were worth very little. We saw how good Monaco can be and they continued their buccaneering tirade in the first half. The highest scoring team in Europe were swarming, pressing and committing plenty of players in every attack. City just could not get going, failing to muster a shot on target in the first half and little possession in the final third. “We forgot to play in the first half. We forgot to fight and defend as a team. We forgot to press. We gave them too much respect” said Bacary Sagna post-match. He was right, City virtually crumbled and a renaissance in the second half proved too little too late.

To their credit, City dominated proceedings in the second half. Rather than electing to bring on Toure, Pep decided to pull De Bruyne deeper to help Fernandinho bring the ball out. It worked and City’s tactic of threading balls to Sterling and Sane were putting pressure on a meek Monaco defence. The only problem is that City – much like throughout this season – couldn’t convert their chances and despite taking control of the tie through Sané, they fell apart to a simple set-piece goal.

It was truly a tale of two halves and after the ecstasy of the first leg, a sobering realisation for many Manchester City supporters.

Fernandinho isn’t the man he used to be

Monaco strangled Fernandinho to the extend that it killed Manchester City’s entire build-up. From the get go, they pressed and harried the lone midfielder and he simply couldn’t cope the way Yaya Toure did in the first leg.

Fernandinho has had a peculiar season, rife with good and bad form, suspensions and various cameos at left-back and right-back. It’s not been his most stellar campaign so it was interesting that Pep opted for him rather than Toure – who has proved to be our most important midfielder since he returned. In the first leg, Yaya Toure was only one of few players who could evade the press and get the ball our to start an attack. He played an important role in the build-up, one Fernandinho couldn’t do.

It makes you wonder then what the future holds for Manchester City in this position. Ilkay Gündogan might still exist but with Fernandinho reaching the age of 32 and Yaya Toure coming to 34 this summer and possibly leaving, Pep will have to dive into the market for another midfielder. As for Fernandinho, it leaves you wondering whether he’s still the man he used to be.

Until the end of March, the City Store is marking down some iconic Retro Shirts to £20 (£18 for Cityzens).

Make sure you grab one!

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