Why Manchester City’s record-breaking season might still feel like failure

Pep Guardiola was at a loss to influence the Champions League match against Liverpool. (AFP)
Updated 06 April 2018
0

Why Manchester City’s record-breaking season might still feel like failure

LONDON: Could it be happening again? That’s the question Pep Guardiola is likely to be asking himself, and familiarity can only enhance his frustration.
His Manchester City side could wrap up the league title against Manchester United on Saturday and yet there is a serious danger of the season ending with a sense of anti-climax.
Just as in each of his three campaigns in charge of Bayern Munich, Guardiola has won the league early,. Victory has come too early for there to any great explosion of emotion when it is confirmed. City need to beat United on Saturday to wrap up the title with six games remaining, but even if they don’t, the title will come.
When it does, there will be a nod of satisfaction, debates as to whether City, who are likely to break both points and goalscoring records, are the greatest Premier League champions of all time (quite possibly). Barring something extraordinary in the second leg on Tuesday, there will be a yawning sense of disappointment about what happened at Anfield on Wednesday.
Admission to the highest level of the pantheon demands European success, particularly in an era when a handful of super-clubs have much greater resources than everybody else, with the result that the Champions League has belonged to four countries over the past 14 years.
Since he left Barcelona, Guardiola has kept on failing in the latter stages of the Champions League: Three semifinal defeats with Bayern, a last-16 exit with Manchester City a year ago and now a strong chance of defeat in the quarter-final. Worse, the same pattern keeps being repeated: Three goals conceded in 18 minutes against Real Madrid in 2014, three goals conceded in 17 minutes against Barcelona in 2015, two goals conceded in eight minutes against Monaco last season and three conceded in 21 minutes on Wednesday.
Again and again, Guardiola sides find themselves reeling, the composure that usually characterises them in possession lost as a defense that is better at passing the ball than actually defending is exposed. This is the flaw that keeps undermining him. His side may have the best defensive record in the Premier League this season with just 21 goals conceded in 31 games, but that is a mark of how good they are in possession, how intimidated opponents are, rather than how good they are at the nuts and bolts of defending.
It is a realization Jurgen Klopp came to years ago. As he pointed out after Liverpool’s 4-3 victory over City in January, to sit back and hope they do not convert any of the chances they will inevitably convert is to hope to win the lottery. Far better to take the risk and attack, and to try to expose their defensive vulnerability.
But it is too simple to suggest that everybody should follow the Klopp model. Not everybody has the players to attack, and very few, if any, other teams are quite so quick in transition.
Nonetheless, Liverpool’s success should give other teams hope, and if doubts are beginning to assail Guardiola — as his selection of Ilkay Gundogan over Raheem Sterling on Wednesday in an effort to assert greater control suggests — it is now Jose Mourinho’s job to try to multiply them by upsetting City on Saturday.
United do not have Liverpool’s pace or cohesion, but as long balls to Romelu Lukaku, with Alexis Sanchez and Marcus Rashford feeding on his knockdowns, undid Liverpool, so they may undo City. That would spoil the City party — and push Guardiola into further self-interrogation.


Australia end T20 losing streak with 4-run win over India in Brisbane

Updated 21 November 2018
0

Australia end T20 losing streak with 4-run win over India in Brisbane

BRISBANE: Australia allrounder Marcus Stoinis took two wickets in the last over Wednesday as India’s batting lineup collapsed late to lose their tour-opening Twenty20 international by four runs.
Virat Kohli returned to lead India after skipping the previous series against West Indies and, after winning the toss and sending Australia in to bat, had a below-par night, dropping a regulation catch in the fourth over, misfielding later in the innings and getting out for four.
The Australians posted 158-4 in a rain-interrupted 17 overs with Glenn Maxwell (46 from 24 balls) and Chris Lynn (37 from 20 balls) each belting four sixes and Stoinis finishing unbeaten on 33.
The rain delay brought the Duckworth-Lewis rules into play, giving India a revised target of 174 from 17 overs.
Shikhar Dhawan set India up in its run chase with a 42-ball 76 that included 10 boundaries and two sixes, including one over backward square to raise his half century.
He had a reprieve on 65 when Adam Zampa put down a return catch, but was finally out upper cutting a short ball from Billy Stanlake to Jason Behrendorff on the third man boundary as India slipped to 105-4 in the 12th over.
His wicket came in a period when India lost 3-24, and seemed to give Australia the advantage. But Rishabh Pant (20) and Dinesh Karthik (30) took up the attack and plundered 25 from one over by Andrew Tye after a tactical blunder by Australia captain Aaron Finch, who lost track of the new bowling restrictions.
The pair put on 51 for the fifth wicket to give India the ascendancy before Pant paddled an easy catch to Behrendorff off Tye’s bowling to again swing the momentum, leaving India needing 18 runs from nine balls.
Stoinis bowled the last over, with India needing 13 runs, and took pace off the ball as he picked up the wickets of Krunal Pandya and Karthik before India finished 169-7.
Kohli described it as a “sort of see-saw battle” and Dhawan said the India squad wasn’t overly disappointed with the narrow loss.
A missed runout when Maxwell was on 9 and a few dropped catches were momentary setbacks for India, Dhawan said, but “we got a lot of confidence out of this game and we’re going to take it forward for the next game.”
Stoinis said he enjoyed the pressure of bowling the last over and hoped Australia was turning a corner after losing four consecutive T20s.
“We’ve got good memories in the team,” he said. “We dominated T20s last year. We were No. 1 or 2 in the world rankings not long ago. We’re confident.”
India has won its last seven T20 series, and Kohli’s squad is using the three-game series in the shortest format to fine-tune for the bigger prize starting next month when it chases its first ever test series victory in Australia.
Australian cricket has been in turmoil since a ball-tampering scandal in South Africa in March and is coming off back-to-back series losses to Pakistan in the United Arab Emirates and at home against South Africa.
On top of that, Australia was missing frontline bowlers Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins, Josh Hazlewood and Nathan Lyon, who were preparing for the four-match test series which kicks off Dec. 6 in Adelaide.