Guardiola under pressure as City chase elusive crown

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

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."


India clinch Australia Test series in Gabba thriller

India clinch Australia Test series in Gabba thriller
Updated 19 January 2021

India clinch Australia Test series in Gabba thriller

India clinch Australia Test series in Gabba thriller
  • Wicketkeeper Rishabh Pant starred with a swashbuckling 89 not out

BRISBANE: India pulled off a record run-chase in a thrilling final session to hand Australia their first defeat at Brisbane’s Gabba ground since 1988 and clinch the four-Test series 2-1 on Tuesday.

Wicketkeeper Rishabh Pant starred with a swashbuckling 89 not out as the injury-depleted visitors overhauled the 328-run target with three overs to go, winning by three wickets.

Australia had not been beaten at the Gabba since falling to Viv Richards’ all-conquering West Indies side by nine wickets in November 1988. India’s 329 for seven also smashed the 69-year-old record for the biggest run-chase at the Gabba, set by Australia who scored 236 for seven to beat the West Indies in 1951.

The series win was a remarkable achievement considering India were bowled out for their lowest Test score of 36 to lose the first Test in Adelaide, before bouncing back to win the second in Melbourne.

The visitors, ravaged by injuries and captain Virat Kohli’s absence for paternity leave, then batted throughout the final day to draw the third Test in Sydney.

“It really means a lot to us. I don’t know how to describe this victory but I’m really proud of all the boys,” said India’s interim skipper Ajinkya Rahane.

Man-of-the-match Pant, who played a similar innings in the drawn Sydney Test, blasted his 89 from 138 balls with nine fours and a six.

His innings followed an equally impressive knock from 21-year-old Shubman Gill, who made 91 at the top of the order earlier in the day.

Cheteshwar Pujara’s 56 was also vital, the gritty number three hit 10 times by Australia’s quicks, taking blows to the fingers, arm, ribs and head as he was subjected to a searching examination by Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood.

Cummins with 4-55 was easily the pick of the Australian attack, sending down 24 overs of pace and hostility, but the rest of the bowlers looked fatigued after bowling all day in Sydney just eight days ago.

“I’m absolutely disappointed, no doubt about that. We’ve come here to win the Test and win the series,” said Australia captain Tim Paine.

“It’s probably a little bit of a trend the whole series — I think in the key moments we were found wanting and completely outplayed by a really disciplined, really tough Indian side who fully deserved the series win.”

Despite Australia’s fearsome record at the Gabba, the Indian batsmen showed no fear and never looked interested in playing for a draw, even after losing the wickets of Pujara and Mayank Agarwal after tea.

Pant took advantage of any loose ball, but also played some outrageous strokes, showing the influence T20 cricket has had on Tests.

Their effort in the fourth Test is even more admirable considering the high injury toll on tour.

Their bowling attack was led by Mohammad Siraj, who debuted in Melbourne, supported by Navdeep Saini, Shardul Thakur, T. Natarajan and Washington Sundar, who had two Tests between them heading into Brisbane.

The tourists were without the services of front-line seamers Ishant Sharma, Mohammad Shami, Umesh Yadav and Japrit Bumrah and regular spin bowlers Ravi Jadeja and Ravi Ashwin.

After just one wicket in the first session, Australia could only manage two after lunch, with Gill falling for his superb 91 and skipper Rahane a quickfire 24.

Gill was magnificent on a fifth-day wicket, smashing the Australian bowlers to all corners of the ground.

He hit eight fours and two towering sixes in his 146-ball innings before he became Nathan Lyon’s 398th Test victim, edging an arm ball to first slip where Steve Smith took a sharp catch.

With Pujara putting down the anchor at one end, Rahane raced to 24 from just 22 balls before he edged Cummins to Australian ‘keeper Paine to leave India 167 for three.

India looked in control through the final session and despite losing three wickets in the last hour, they cruised home with three overs to spare when Pant hit the winning four off Hazlewood.

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