Champions League is the holy grail for Manchester City then they lost their way as they slumped to a careless, lacklustre defeat against Lyon. They have time to turn this Group F around but will have to perform far better than this to even reach the last-16, never mind attempt to win the competition. Hopefully this was their wake-up call against complacency.
In fact this was probably City’s worst performance ever under Pep Guardiola – except he was not on the touchline, as he completed the first half of a two-match Uefa ban. Instead it was assistant Mikel Arteta, who came close to becoming the Arsenal manager, who took the team and whether it was the absence of Guardiola or whether it was a strange kind of expectation of victory, it was simply not good enough.
They only mustered a response once substitutes Leroy Sane and Sergio Aguero came on and, even then, Lyon were worthy winners as City struggled and the crowd thinned out before the end.
Maybe City were missing Guardiola’s demanding, cajoling nature as there were mis-placed passes and mis-timed challenges as, in once incident, Fabian Delph and David Silva jumped into each other as they attempted a header.
City got away with that one but they were punished for their lack of intensity, their carelessness, midway through the half. Lyon scored.
They had arrived fearing an embarrassing scoreline but that embarrassment belonged to City. Firstly Fernandinho passed the ball straight to Lyon captain Nabil Fekir who quickly found space down the left to curl the ball in, as Kyle Walker attempted to close him down. Even so it should have been cleared by Delph but, deployed again as a left-back because of Benjamin Mendy’s knee injury, he missed the ball completely with it running through to Maxwel Cornet who fired it back across Ederson and into the net.
Just before the goal the Lyon fans had attempted to replicate the Icelandic thunderclap. Instead their team had made a lightning strike on the pitch. Would it jolt City into life? Or would the complacency continue? There had been half-chances. They centred around Raheem Sterling who had lashed a shot into the side-netting, saw another blocked by former City defender Jason Denayer – who spent four seasons at the club but was actually playing his first game at the Etihad – with Lyon goalkeeper Anthony Lopes clawing a cross away from under his bar. But it was hardly a charge.
Lyon came with a plan. A plan of containment. High up in one of the executive boxes Guardiola tugged at his flat-cap as City continued to be frustrated – with another opportunity falling to Sterling only for Lopes to dive on his deflected shot after initially spilling it.
Already eight points behind Paris St-Germain in the French league, Lyon have made a poor start to the campaign but packed their midfield and used former Manchester United forward Memphis Depay as their lone striker. And that plan was working with Lopes holding on to another deflected shot, this time from Delph.
It felt alarmingly subdued. There was an expectation, maybe, that City would simply overwhelm their opponents but the clocked ticked towards half-time and they still trailed with Gabriel Jesus offering little threat until he wove his way into the area and went down under the challenge of another former United player, Rafael. The penalty appeal was waved away.
At the other end Lyon did score once more. Again it was due to a City error and another by Fernandinho who was dispossessed by Fekir, who was so close to joining Liverpool in the summer. He exchanged passed with Depay, strode forward and drove a low shot from the area’s edge into the corner of the goal.
Guardiola pushed his cap back in disbelief and held his face. As part of his ban he was not allowed in the dressing room at half-time. Arteta would have to turn this round and sent City out early for the second half – with the sprinklers still on.
Fernandinho drove wide, a low shot by Jesus was – just – held by Lopes as he almost dived the wrong way but City continued to struggle and Lyon came close to scoring a third, which would have ended it. Depay, running easily between the City centre-halves, latched on to an incisive through ball and poked his shot past Ederson – only for it to rebound off a post.
Finally Sergio Aguero was called for from the bench, replacing Jesus. And finally there was a spark of life and a goal as the other substitute Sane danced through two challenges and cut the ball back to Bernardo Silva who stroked it across Lopes and inside the far post.
There was time. How costly would that Depay miss be for Lyon? Sane dribbled through again with Aguero eventually being teed up. Lopes held his shot. The striker then held off Denayer only for Lopes to tip his rising effort over. Sane sliced wide from the corner as it ended in frustration for City and an unexpected defeat.