Manchester City’s last group game in the Champions League at RB Leipzig should have been a breeze for Pep Guardiola no matter what happened on the pitch.
His team secured the top spot in Group A after defeating Paris Saint-Germain on match day five, avenging their defeat at the Parc des Princes and confirming for Europe that they will be serious challengers for the European Cup again.
Guardiola – who has often been critical of match-fixing, injury / fitness problems and the use of only three subs in English football this season – got the chance to rest his big stars and perhaps lean on some of the talented youngsters coming through the academy he like to talk about.
And in the name of justice, the Catalan coach made seven changes, although that did not stop City’s starting line-up from looking like one that could storm for a Premier League title. A handful of academy products also came on the bench, including Cole Palmer who has already impressed this season.
And yet, with nothing going on, a 2-1 loss in an empty arena where Guardiola’s team made chances but still looked understandably tough from the rotation, they still found a way to worsen the general mood – it’s not just typical of Stad ?
Kyle Walker made one of the single worst performances of the Sheikh Mansour era (let’s not write about history and say that City have been at this level forever). He lost the dangerous Dominik Szoboszlai for Leizpig’s opening goal, and late when the guests regained their footing, he decided to try to wipe out the ankles of Andre Silva for no apparent reason.
The challenge was so invaluable that it might even be enough for UEFA to watch and add Walker’s automatic one-match suspension, which would throw an even bigger key into City’s knockout work.
The mood flared up towards the end of the match in Saxony, but Walker – one of City’s most senior players – let the team down and has created a level of attention that Guardiola certainly would not have wanted.
A quiet night in Leipzig will make the coach ask about the behavior of one of his most trusted players, how it will affect the team, how it can be a reflection of a team known for their tactical foul as a whole.
Walker has done well to repair a reputation as a luxury debt in recent years, lifts himself to the top of the game and is well worth the £ 50m that City paid Spurs for him. And yet a horrible and foolish display is enough to bring these doubts back to the surface. He must own it for himself and his teammates.
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