T After the Morning Footage had a memorable quality for Manchester City fans the night before. Never mind seeing so many players slumped or lying on grass at Estádio do Dragão after the Champions League dream, it was inevitably Pep Guardiola who best captured the disappointment and desperation.
The city manager wanted to clarify something after losing 1-0 to Chelsea in the final in Porto. “I would like to say it has been an extraordinary, exceptional season for us,” Guardiola said, and no one agreed. A third Premier League title in four tries, 12-point margin, Annex A for defense, and then the quality of football: fast, sharp, technically perfect.
There are critics who claim he failed at his job when Guardiola fell short in the Champions League, as he did at City five times. The theory suggests that the Champions League is the trophy that the club and its owner, Sheikh Mansour, most wanted, so Guardiola will be damned forever if he can't deliver it.
it is nonsense and ignores the rest of Guardiola's work; domestic silverware, weekdays for City fans, weekend fun, its wider influence on the British game. However, at the same time, there is no doubt that the gap in his resume will affect the legacy of the City. There will be an asterisk while staying. Just like right now, his team has one against the season.
Guardiola spent all his little tics upstairs touching the stubble at a post-match press conference he didn't want to give. His lip was fidgeting, shrugging, rubbing his frowning eyebrows. He barely knows what it means to lose a grand final – it was only the second opposite, the other was the Copa Del Rey loss to Barcelona vs Real Madrid in 2011. Earlier this season, by chance, Chelsea had only one shot to win in the FA Cup semi-finals. had lost the match.
The novelty factor deepened the pain, emphasized the spirit. Searching. At best it's a scar that will take some time to heal given the distance to next season's finale. At worst he may never do so, and if that seems like an exaggeration, then this is Guardiola's 2014, again with Barcelona.
“By dwelling on one of those you don't want to hide,” said City winger Raheem Sterling with a blank stare. "Go on." Good luck with that.
Guardiola and his players suddenly have unwanted baggage that will stay with them throughout the summer and possibly most of next season. How they carry this will be the ultimate psychological test, deepening an unwelcome narrative, especially as defeat will be talked about regularly.
Losing to Lyon in the quarterfinals of last season was bad, mainly due to its self-inflicted nature. This was worse. Against Lyon, Guardiola started with a surprise 3-4-2-1 system, where Fernandinho was on the right of the third defence, and it didn't work. However, after a tactical defeat, City came back and despite their mistakes, they could have mourned a clear miss from Sterling by 86 2-2 minutes. How to legislate for this?
Against Chelsea, the margins were similarly good, though City didn't give the impression of having a goal in them. They created almost nothing in the second half. Chelsea were the better team in the first half and bolstered himself to take the lead once and close the result.
A year after Lyon, City became Premier League champions. than the second. Besides the player of the season, Rúben Dias, there were many others who made great progress, notably John Stones, Ilkay Gundogan and Phil Foden. Still they hit the wall.
Guardiola certainly picked a pretty good moment to start without being an expert defensive midfielder, with both Fernandinho and Rodri on the bench. One or both of the clubs had started 60 in November, beating the Champions League group stage Olympiakos to match this season.
Instead, Guardiola used Gündoğan, the team's top scorer this season, as the deepest midfielder. Defenselessness was a feature of the first half and hurt the most as Chelsea quickly smashed the Havertz goal. Sterling was asked if the absence of Fernandinho and Rodri was a problem. “I thought we started really well,” he replied. "We were in the game and [the goal] was a counterattack … we knew exactly what they were going to do and that's exactly what happened."
Guardiola had lost an infamous Champion. In the second game of the semi-finals from Bayern to Madrid, according to the 4-0 score line, it was formed by the attacking staff. His team was smashed on the bench and he swore he'd never be this open again. The flaw, though, was there against Chelsea in a roster filled with offensive midfielders and wingers. They had a hard time executing a complex game plan.
What was interesting to hear from Guardiola were the repeated references that it was the first time for City and many of their players. Champions League final. Previously, only Gündoğan had played in the final of the most important part of Europe.
The subtext was that the experience would hold them well for the future. All clubs must be heartbroken before they triumph in this most capricious competition. Yet their conquerors in Chelsea blue were equally inexperienced, only Thiago Silva had made it to the previous final. The city's regrets run deep. The coming days will be difficult.