City became the first English side to lose four consecutive champions league games, as they were beaten by Lyon at the Etihad. City were strong favourites going into their European opener but started the game without Benjamin Mendy or Sergio Aguerö due to injury.
After a slow start, the sky blues fell behind as Maxwell Cornet swept in following a Fabian Delph mistake. The French side extended the lead just minutes from half-time when Nabil Fekir held off three defenders to smash home from just outside the box after Fernandinho needlessly lost possession in midfield.
The home side improved in the second half, and although Bernardo Silva gave City almost half an hour to find an equaliser after slotting home, the unusually sub-par hosts could not avoid defeat for the first time this season. The extent of Guardiola’s absence from the touchline will be debated, but it certainly seemed as if they were lacking the kind of energy and intent so often present in his sides. The carelessness of City was alarmingly apparent to see – sloppy mistakes allowed Lyon to easily create chances and keep city stretched at all times. It’s a rocky start to the new Champions League season for the Manchester club, who are learning the hard way that there is no drifting through games in Europe’s premier competition.
As Pep Guardiola’s third managerial experiment, Manchester City are slowly monopolising English football, with a high-pressing, total football approach that saw them blow away sides on their way to a 100-point league title victory. Pep has worked to mould his team, not just through high-profile signings like Benjamin Mendy and Bernardo Silva, but also by working to improve players already at the club – Raheem Sterling a starring example. Using a 4-3-3, City are driven by their use of width, supported by wingbacks Walker and Mendy. There is also an emphasis on a creative midfield, who create dangerous opportunities by building from the back – often the side’s sheer intensity and rapid movement of the ball that make them difficult to play against.
After last season’s quarter-final disappointment against Liverpool, the club looks to have asserted their status as serious challengers in the Champions League, alongside the annual favourites – the likes of Barcelona, Bayern Munich, and Real Madrid. Pep Guardiola’s team have the players to compete with such teams and can be forgiven for already thinking ahead to the knockout stages. In the group, Lyon have proved their ability, but City should have enough quality to aim for close to maximum points in their meetings with Hoffenheim and Shakhtar Donetsk. Their only weakness is the inexperience of a squad that includes many players that have never made the semi-final stage in the competition. As they found out at Anfield in April, they can also be vulnerable to the counter-attack and have at times struggled against sides that open them up by mirroring their total football tactics.
Despite this, Guardiola’s side would not look out of place in the final four, and it will be their big-game mentalities that determine their chance for a first European crown.
Individual Group Rival Profiles:
Under the guidance of one of Europe’s brightest young coaches, Julian Nagelsmann, Hoffeinheim have broken into the group stages of the Champions League for the first time, having lost to Liverpool at the play-off stage last year. Nagelsmann has achieved top-four finishes in both of his first two seasons at the club and tends to employ a 3-4-3 formation that can be easily transformed into a 5-man backline. Look out for Arsenal starlet Reiss Nelson, who has joined on a season-long loan, and Nicho Schulz, considered a possible heir to Mesut Ozil’s throne, having made his Germany debut this month.
Ukrainian heavyweights Shakhtar are experienced UCL competitors, having appeared in the group stage in five of their last six seasons, making it to the round of 16 in three of those. Driven by Brazilian stars Taison and Junior Moares, who has scored 7 in 8 so far this season, they are notorious for supplying some of Europe’s top talent in recent years, including Fernandinho, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Willian, and Douglas Costa. Manager Paulo Fonesca prefers to use a 4-2-3-1 system, with two wingers that can move central to create a dense midfield and used such tactics when they were the first team to beat Man. City last season. With history in the Champions League and a strong squad, Shakhtar will be expected to rival Lyon to escape the group.
The French side have been in and out of Europe’s premier competition in recent years and peaked with by reaching the semi-finals in 2010. The team impressed domestically last season, finishing just 2 points behind 2nd placed Monaco in Ligue 1, but disappointingly exited the Europa League in the round of 16. One of the Champions League’s more youthful sides, the likes of Nabil Fekir, Moussa Dembele and Memphis Depay will all pose a threat in a fluid attacking system. The club’s pitfalls will likely be inexperience and the liability to get hit on the counter, but there’s more than enough quality in this team to overcome that.
Champions League Group F: