City punished for 'slow start'

Lyon forward Maxwel Cornet (in orange) wheeling away in delight after opening the scoring for the French Ligue 1 team against Manchester City in their Champions League Group F opener at the Etihad Stadium on Wednesday.
Lyon forward Maxwel Cornet (in orange) wheeling away in delight after opening the scoring for the French Ligue 1 team against Manchester City in their Champions League Group F opener at the Etihad Stadium on Wednesday.PHOTO: REUTERS

Arteta would not blame loss on Guardiola's touchline ban after Lyon pounce on errors

LONDON • There was an unfamiliar look to the Manchester City bench for Wednesday's Champions League 2-1 loss to Lyon with the suspended manager Pep Guardiola forced to watch from the stands and his assistant Mikel Arteta prowling the technical area.

Whether that unusual arrangement had any influence on an untypical performance from City, who lacked zip and inspiration as they struggled to break down the French side, is a matter of pure guesswork.

But Arteta insisted he had no idea whether Guardiola's touchline ban for being sent off in last season's quarter-final exit to Liverpool had anything to do with City unexpectedly losing a fourth Champions League game in a row.

He did, however, admit that the English champions were issued a wake-up call for being slow and occasionally careless.

"I have no idea. The reality is Pep wasn't here and we lost the game. I can't tell you what would happen if he was here," the Spaniard said after the Group F defeat. "We were very aware of Lyon's strengths and weaknesses. We were well prepared. But we weren't prepared to be 2-0 down at the break.

"There is zero margin for errors in the Champions League - you make a mistake and you are punished. If you don't win duels, play simple balls, you will suffer - today was another example of that.

"We started quite slowly, we didn't feel the flow around the team. We missed the right pass and didn't find consistency. We felt under threat every time we lost the ball.

  • 73% 

    The Etihad Stadium filled just three-quarters of its 55,000 capacity on Wednesday, with official attendance at 40,111.

"The players are not perfect, sometimes they have bad days, sometimes better. I can't fault the effort. I won't judge them because we lost."

City's mood at the Etihad, as a collective, was all wrong from the start and they got punished for it.

There was a lack of energy from the stands which were far from full, with 15,000 empty seats and many home fans leaving before the end of the match, and there was certainly insufficient intensity from the players in the first half.

As such, City trailed 2-0 to goals from Maxwel Cornet and Nabir Fekir even before the interval.

Guardiola's men are among the favourites for the Champions League title this term, but they lacked all the hunger that Lyon had.

Memphis Depay ran himself into the ground as the French side's sole striker, showing all the commitment that was rarely associated with him at his previous club Manchester United.

Anthony Lopes impressed in goal, beaten only by Bernardo Silva's second-half strike. However, the real star gleaming in this well-organised, energetic Lyon team was none other than captain Fekir.

As lax as City had been, they were still stunned by the brilliance of Fekir in the first period.

If there was a long-standing problem with Fekir's right knee, scuppering his £53 million (S$96 million) move to Liverpool, there was no sign of it with his driving runs. The French World Cup winner's power and pace were too much for City.

Mystery surrounds the reasons behind the collapse of his Liverpool move, amid apparent concerns over his knee. Even his knee slide to celebrate his goal spoke of his unrestricted movement.

City were sluggish, almost complacent. Their high line was caught out, as Lyon targeted the space behind the English champions' defence. Their concentration on the ball was also suspect, with Fernandinho twice punished for not reacting quicker to a pass, including during the build-up to Fekir's goal.

Lyon have won just two of their opening five Ligue 1 matches of the season, but this spirited showing thoroughly pleased their French coach Bruno Genesio.

"We need to be capable of repeating this performance in order to fulfil the objectives we have," he said.

"The end of the game was tougher as they brought it back to 2-1. I was scared they'd score a second goal.

"We would have taken 2-2 before the match but, given the way the game went, we would have been disappointed not to leave with the three points."

REUTERS, THE GUARDIAN, THE TIMES, LONDON, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 21, 2018, with the headline 'City punished for 'slow start''. Print Edition | Subscribe