Pep Guardiola has pulled off some tactical masterclasses during his time at Manchester City. What happened in Lisbon on Saturday night was a tactical disaster.
For those that accuse the City boss of over-thinking Champions matches, this shocking 3-1 quarter-final loss to Lyon can now be considered Exhibit A for the prosecution.
After a perfect plan took apart the “kings of the competition”, Real Madrid, in the previous round, Guardiola got creative again, but this time got it horribly, horribly wrong.
Where City had been clever and clinical against the Spanish champions, in Lisbon they were flat and ponderous. There are no second chances in the truncated mini-tournament in Portugal and City don’t deserve one.
There was nothing over-complicated about Lyon’s tactics. They just looked to play the ball in behind City’s static back-line and punish their general insipidness ruthlessly. The simple strategy worked a treat.
Going out at the quarter-final stage for the third time would have been bad enough for a coach as highly rated as Guardiola, but to go out to a French side that finished seventh in Ligue 1 is just plain embarrassing.
The Catalan can point to tight decisions and an Ederson howler, but this was a performance so far away from being what was required, just when it was required.
Kevin De Bruyne is the only player who should escape the bitter criticism set to follow, as everywhere else on the pitch, there was a lack of courage, creativity and charisma.
Guardiola gave far too much respect to Lyon after failing to beat them in either group game last season, and matched their line-up with a back three, attacking wing-backs and Raheem Sterling as a strike partner for Gabriel Jesus.
They lacked their usual flair, energy and certainty, barely creating a threat in the first half against a Lyon side that has played just three times in the last five months.
Despite their basic and obvious approach, though, Lyon inexplicably outsmarted a side many tipped to end the season being crowned champions of Europe.
Rudi Garcia instructed his fast forwards to chase balls in behind City’s high-line and when they eventually got it right, they ruthlessly punished the Premier League side.
For the first goal, Karl Toko Ekambi ran onto a long pass and when he was tackled by Eric Garcia, Maxwel Cornet clinically threaded a ball around the out-of-position Ederson.
After De Bruyne had played City’s ‘Get Out Of Jail’ card, Lyon pulled off the same trick to regain the lead, with Moussa Dembele this time racing clear to score.
In terms of offside, these were small margins but City can have few complaints about decisions going against them this time.
The back-line looked unsure and unprepared of what they were supposed to be doing. Kyle Walker was caught out of position for the opening goal while he and right-footed Joao Cancelo on the left-hand side offered little attacking threat.
Fernandinho, a converted midfielder, looked uncomfortable on the right side of a back-three, with Aymeric Laporte, so often City’s rock, was too often on the periphery playing on the left.
In the centre of the defence was Eric Garcia, who was trusted with bringing the ball out of defence. However, the intelligent running he would have expected to see ahead of him was missing, with City looking strangely flat and uninspired in such a massive game.
The midfield lacked tempo and they rarely managed to get the ball to De Bruyne in the dangerous areas where he can cause havoc.
The Belgian was still the biggest threat but the frustration was that he had so little going on around him.
Guardiola must take the blame in that regard; his system was strange.
Stranger still was the refusal to change it at half-time, sending them back onto the pitch early as if the fault for City’s sub-standard showing lay with the players.
But this was Guardiola’s failure.
The Catalan was on his knees in the technical area as Lyon scored their killer third goal.
He managed to pick himself back up. But picking his players back up after such a senseless loss could prove far more difficult.