Guardiola under pressure as City chase elusive crown

Manchester City’s Argentinian striker Sergio Aguero, right, makes his first appearance for four months against Arsenal last weekend after knee surgery. (AFP)
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Updated 20 October 2020

Guardiola under pressure as City chase elusive crown

  • Despite all their domestic success in recent years, City have never gone beyond the semifinals of the Champions League

LONDON: Pep Guardiola starts his latest bid to lead Manchester City to Champions League glory with the shadows of past failures casting doubt on his ability to secure that elusive title.

City host Porto in their opening Champions League group match on Wednesday with Guardiola's failing in the tournament weighing heavily on both the Spanish boss and his club.

Despite all their domestic success in recent years, City have never gone beyond the semifinals of the Champions League and Guardiola has found the competition equally vexing for much of the last decade.

Since he won the Champions League as Barcelona boss for the second time in 2011, Guardiola has failed to return to the final of Europe's elite club competition.

That nine-year drought includes four years of frustration since he took charge at City in 2016.

In that time, Guardiola has seen City beaten by Monaco in the last 16 and Liverpool, Tottenham and Lyon in the quarterfinals.

He also lost in three semifinals during his time as Bayern Munich manager before moving to City.

Last season's shock 3-1 defeat against Lyon in Lisbon was especially galling as City were heavy favorites against the French side.

Guardiola deserved a large portion of the blame for that letdown after his tactical tinkering appeared to unsettle his players and did nothing to tilt the tie in City's favor.

Interpreted by Guardiola's critics as further proof that his Champions League success at Barcelona was due to the presence of the great Lionel Messi's presence, the only bright side of the Lyon loss was that it was not their farewell to Europe for a while.

For several months last season, it appeared City would not even be competing in the Champions League this term after UEFA gave them a two-year ban from European competitions for Financial Fairplay breaches.

City's legal dream team won that battle and the suspension was eventually thrown out on appeal.

Whether Guardiola can be as successful in Europe as City's Abu Dhabi-based owners were in the court room remains far from certain.

Adding to the unease around City ahead of their European campaign is the unresolved issue of Guardiola's future.

Guardiola is out of contract at the end of the season and has yet to agree on a new deal amid speculation that he may decide to leave the Etihad Stadium in 2021.

For now, Guardiola will focus on Porto's visit to Manchester rather than entertaining questions about his long-term plans.

The 49-year-old insists he has to earn a prolonged stay at City by improving on last season's disappointment, which saw them surrender the Premier League to Liverpool and win only the League Cup.

There have been some worrying signs already as Leicester thrashed City 5-2, while Saturday's 1-0 win against Arsenal was far from convincing.

Significantly, Guardiola was able to welcome back Sergio Aguero last weekend as City's record goalscorer made his first appearance for four months after knee surgery.

City have lacked a cutting edge in Aguero's absence and Guardiola's hopes of a serious Champions League challenge hinge on the Argentine striker staying fit.

"The important thing is that Sergio comes back in good physical condition, starts to get his rhythm, doesn't get more injuries and plays good," Guardiola said.

"We know what he means for us, we know how we appreciate him, but now he has to show like every one of us, me first, that we deserve to continue here and playing good and winning games."


UEFA bans Qarabag official for life for ‘racist’ Armenia comments

Updated 26 November 2020

UEFA bans Qarabag official for life for ‘racist’ Armenia comments

  • Qarabag’s PR and media manager Nurlan Ibrahimov has been banned for life, by UEFA, from ‘exercising any football-related activity’
  • In a social media post, which was later deleted, Ibrahimov had called for the killing of ‘all the Armenians, old and young, without distinction’

LAUSANNE: UEFA announced on Thursday it has banned for life a staff member of Azerbaijani football club Qarabag for a social media post that showed “racist behavior” and “incidents of a non-sporting nature.”
The side’s PR and media manager Nurlan Ibrahimov, who was provisionally suspended on November 3, was banned for life from “exercising any football-related activity,” said the disciplinary committee in a statement.
UEFA, which runs the game in Europe, will “ask FIFA to extend this ban to the whole world,” and has also fined Qarabag 100,000 euros ($119,000).
In the social media post, which was later deleted, Ibrahimov had called for the killing of “all the Armenians, old and young, without distinction,” according to the Armenian Football Federation (FFA).
The post came amid the conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia in Nagorno-Karabakh.
Following the takeover of the region by Armenia in 1993, Qarabag moved to Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan.
They have gone on to become the country’s leading club and appeared in the UEFA Champions League group stage in 2017-18.
After losing in the third qualifying round of this season’s competition, Qarabag dropped into the Europa League, in which they are due to host Turkey’s Sivasspor on Thursday.