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Guardiola's last chance? A breakdown of Pep's Champions League failures

7:37 AM WAT 06/09/2022
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Into his seventh season, is Guardiola drinking at the last chance saloon in Europe?

It is 10 years since Pep Guardiola he last had his hands on the Champions League trophy. A decade where he has managed some wonderful players and teams playing a dizzying brand of football, but ultimately not delivered in Europe.

Few would have anticipated such a long wait after he won it twice in his first three years at Barcelona, last claiming it in 2011 with a breathtaking and systematic destruction of Manchester United at Wembley.

Followed by a surprise semi-final exit to Chelsea and a year's sabbatical, he moved to Bayern Munich who were then reigning European champions, but he couldn't repeat the feat in his three years in Germany.

There are plenty of critics who described his time at the Allianz Arena as a failure and many will same the say if he doesn't bring the Champions League trophy to Manchester City for the first time.

"People say, 'But you didn't win the Champions League'. That is why I will be judged, if we don't win it in my final period here, that I will be a failure here. I know that," Guardiola said in 2020.

“But I enjoy working with my players and my players still win a lot of games. Winning a certain way is what helps you to win the titles and we believe we can play that way. We will see at the end.”

With his contract expiring this season and no decision yet on a possible extension, we could be heading to the end and this could be his last chance at delivering European silverware.

Guardiola has had six attempts at European success and so far has come up short for varying reasons - sometimes because of bad luck, sometimes because of miscalculations and sometimes because of very poor performances.

Here's a look at how close he has come to delivering success in his previous attempts...

  • Fabinho Mbappe Manchester City Monaco UEFA Champions League R16 21022017

    2016-17

    Manuel Pellegrini had taken City to the semi-finals for the first time the previous year, but the squad was in need of an overhaul when Guardiola took over.

    After beating Steaua Bucharest in a play-off, City made the knockout stages despite a humiliating 4-0 defeat at former club Barcelona in the group stage.

    Monaco appeared to be a favourable draw but that side had players on the cusp of superstardom, including Kylian Mbappe, Bernardo Silva and Fabinho as well as a rejuvenated Radamel Falcao.

    The first leg was a classic - City twice falling behind before winning a thriller 5-3 with two goals from Sergio Aguero.

    In the principality, their defending was naive from set-pieces, eventually losing 3-1 and exiting in the last-16 on away goal's rule - Guardiola's worst ever performance in the Champions League.

    "We will improve but this competition is so demanding," Guardiola said. "Sometimes we have to be special and be lucky. We were not."

  • Salah Manchester City

    2017-18

    City breezed through the group stage and then took care of Swiss champions FC Basel in the last-16 without any problems.

    That brought together another instalment of what has become a fascinating rivalry with Jurgen Klopp's Liverpool.

    The Amazon Prime documentary reveals City's preparations for the clash and, in the Everton dressing room four days before the first leg, Guardiola talks about Liverpool's front three of Mohammed Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino.

    "They scare me. They’re dangerous, I mean it," he said, and he was proved right with each scoring over the two legs - Salah in both.

    The tie finished 5-1 but there were a considerable amount of what-ifs in the final Champions League competition before VAR was introduced.

    Salah was offside in the build-up to the opener at Anfield while Leroy Sane wasn't ahead of a late Gabriel Jesus goal that was ruled out.

    Worse was to come in the second leg when the referee and all his extra officials inexplicably missed Liverpool's James Milner gifting Sane a chance to score - ruling out a goal for offside that would have made in 3-2 on aggregate with 45 minutes left at the Etihad Stadium.

    Guardiola was sent off for his protest and City were dumped out.

  • Guardiola Tottenham

    2018-19

    If City bemoaned the lack of VAR the previous season, they would have benefitted from another year without it in the subsequent campaign.

    Despite losing their opening group game at home to Lyon, City qualified comfortably and then smashed 10 goals past Schalke over two legs in the last-16.

    That brought another all-England tie, this time against Tottenham with City the big favourites to progress.

    VAR worked in their favour in the first leg when it awarded them a penalty, but Sergio Aguero's spot-kick was saved by Hugo Lloris.

    Fabian Delph had been recalled for his first non-domestic cup start in three months and many questioned that decision as he struggled to cope with Son Heung-Min, who scored a late winner.

    But the drama was only starting and a thrilling second leg saw five goals in the opening 21 minutes before Aguero put City ahead in the tie for the first time in the 59th minute.

    Fernando Llorente scored a controversial goal that appeared to go in off his arm and facing another away goal's rule defeat, Raheem Sterling scored in injury time only for it to be rightly overturned by VAR for offside.

    Guardiola sank to the floor in despair, later saying: "It is cruel, but it is what it is and we have to accept it."

  • Manchester City Lyon

    2019-2020

    Of all City's Champions League disappointments, none is as bewildering as the season when they were dumped out by mid-table French side Lyon.

    Remaining unbeaten throughout the group stage, they were unfortunate to draw record winners Real Madrid in the last-16.

    But they produced a masterclass at the Santiago Bernabeu to win 2-1 and then had to wait more than five months for the second following the COVID-19 outbreak across Europe.

    A similar scoreline sent them through to the mini-tournament in Lisbon where one-off ties would be played behind closed doors.

    Lyon in the quarter-finals looked a plum draw, particularly as the Ligue 1 season had been cancelled and they were short of match practise.

    But they stunned the Premier League champions with a 3-1 victory as they caught City on the break and Guardiola's decision to switch to a back-three backfired.

    David Silva, Bernardo, Phil Foden and Riyad Mahrez were on all the bench and the City boss faced criticism for his line-up.

    "We tried to cover our weak points in comparison with their strong points," he said.

  • Manchester City Chelsea

    2020-21

    City were almost flawless when they reached their only final, knocking out Borussia Monchengladbach, Borussia Dortmund and Paris Saint-Germain along their way.

    A few thousand fans were finally allowed back for the showpiece in Porto and many expected to see them lift the trophy for the first time in the club's history.

    But once again it was English opposition that killed City's dream, this time Chelsea - deservedly winning 1-0.

    Guardiola was again in the firing line after opting to play without a holding midfielder and they were overrun through the middle with Fernandinho and Rodri on the bench.

    A recurring theme is that Guardiola is often accused of overthinking important games but insists he will continue to make big calls even though he knows he will have to take the blame if they go wrong.

    "We played 13 or 14 games I don't know how much it was but we won 12, we draw one when we had already qualified against Porto and we played fantastically well but we lost the final," he said.

    "It was 'ah what a f***ing failure' that team - it's not true, we made about a perfect Champions League but the Champions League final we didn't perform as we normally do."

  • Vinicius Junior Ederson Manchester City Real Madrid

    2021-22

    Guardiola was minutes away from reaching a second successive final when his side suffered yet more late heartbreak - this time against Real Madrid after a remarkable collapse.

    The tie could well have been killed off in the first leg in Manchester but for the brilliance of Karim Benzema. City had dominated but only won the thriller 4-3.

    At the Bernabeu, City had much more control and when Mahrez scored in the 73rd minute, they looked to be heading through.

    Madrid had failed to have a single shot on target until Rodrygo managed two in the 90th and 91st minute - both beating Ederson to take the game into extra time.

    From that moment there was only going to be one winner and Benzema secured the victory from the penalty spot and this time the criticism was that City had missed too many chances to finish the Spanish giants.

    “We didn’t suffer much, but we didn’t play our best," Guardiola said. "That is normal in a semi-final, that the players feel the pressure. But in the end we were close. Football is unpredictable and you have to accept it.”