‘You know that feeling you get, You feel you’re older than time, You ain’t exactly sure if you’ve been away a while.’
Joe. H. Harman reflects on a night in Porto, where Thomas Tuchel asked the questions and Pep Guardiola failed to find the answers.
This was never meant to be the crescendo. Rock’n’Roll Star was primed, or maybe Supersonic. For sure Champagne Supernova was teed up on some Man City Spotify playlist. But in the end, Pep’s side brought more ‘Standing on the Shoulders of Giants’ than WTSMG.
No doubt Guardiola is still telling himself that starting Raheem Sterling in his first CL match in five was the right choice. That dropping Ikay Gundogan, his top scorer into a more defensive role in place of his best defensive midfielder, was the right choice.
Re-watching the game, you wonder if it was played out a thousand times, would the outcome really change?
De Bruyne’s substitution in the 48th minute gave a ripple to the narrative, but even without him leaving the field of play after coming off worse in an attempt to scale Mt Rudiger, few watching the spectacle at the Estadio do Dragao could make a case for a City comeback.
The absence of Fernandinho removed the cellophane from City’s defence, allowing Chelsea’s roving tormentor- in-chief, Mount, to find moments and pockets of space that simply shouldn’t have been there.
The goal must haunt Pep. Three Chelsea players occupying five of City’s. Mount receiving the ball on the half-turn, close to the half-way line with City players uncertain whether to close or track. The spectre of Werner, ghosting towards the left channel only for Havertz, the sweary assassin, to drift onto Mount’s perfectly timed through ball.
Talking of ghosts, Bernardo Silva seemed a player completely unaware of his role or his surroundings. Caught in between worlds. Existing in football purgatory. Perhaps it was not being a part of the previous two encounters, but his performance lacked the certainty and clarity of that of his opponents.
Chelsea for their part will be even more dangerous when they add some good old fashioned firepower to their ranks. A return for Romelu Lukaku or even that of Haaland (dare they be so bold) would elevate this team to threat level nuclear. It may also force the hand of Guardiola towards securing Harry Kane’s signature for next season.
Better still, clone N’Golo Kante. He must be the world’s most complete player, and one who seems to play with complete happiness. Dwarfed by many, bettered by none, the Frenchman’s ability to drive from deep and link those attacking moments are now included in the updated Kante 20.21 Version (not to be sold separately).
The same can’t be said for Raheem Sterling who seems further from certainty than most of the City players. His running duel with the preposterously rated 6 out of 10 in L’Equipe Reece James proved a fascinating encounter, but one that ultimately revealed further evidence of Sterling’s limitations in his technical arsenal.
Time is the great leveller and Pep will no doubt redouble his European efforts next season. But despite playing an almost perfect hand for the entirety of the tournament, the fragility of these moments and the nature of Saturday night’s defeat must surely take their emotional toll. One can only hope next season holds greater promise than Oasis’ follow-up album, ‘Dig your own Soul’, which no doubt Guardiola will no doubt be doing in these next few days.