Manchester City’s Champions League hopes took a massive blow on Wednesday as they suffered a heavy 3-0 defeat to Liverpool in the first leg of their quarter-final tie.
City have looked practically invincible all season, sweeping opponents aside with their ruthless possession-based attacking play, but at Anfield they were a shadow of their normal selves.
Post-match, pundits and fans pointed to one thing that they believe made the difference – Guardiola’s decision to do the one thing that he said he wouldn’t – change his principles.
Surprised Guardiola hasn't already withdrawn Gundogan, stuck on Sterling and reverted to the usual 4-3-3. Something has to change. They're being battered here. Liverpool, and their fans inside an electric Anfield, have been outstanding #LFC #MCFC
— James Ducker (@TelegraphDucker) April 4, 2018
His decision to drop Raheem Sterling, the player that has been the focal point of City’s attack all season was baffling to say the least, as were a number of other changes he made.
But the Sterling change was the biggest surprise. The tricky forward’s struggles against his former team are well documented – no goals in seven games and just one win. But this is City’s second highest goalscorer we are talking about. A player with 21 goals in all competition must surely start.
📊 | Raheem Sterling's record at Anfield since he left Liverpool:
❌ 4 Losses
❌ 0 Goals
❌ 0 Assists
⚠ 2 Yellow Cards pic.twitter.com/lz53T0Fr4e
— LFC Transfer Room (@LFCTransferRoom) April 4, 2018
An expensive flop completely out of touch when the Spaniard arrived at the Etihad, Guardiola has turned Sterling’s form around with his belief in the player. So why suddenly decide that this belief is now not strong enough for him to warrant a start at Anfield?
It was a strange decision, and one that handed the advantage to Liverpool as a disjointed City allowed their hosts to get on top following the opening goal.
Guardiola has upset City’s balance by taking Sterling out of the team. Sane’s having a mare and Jesus is so limited compared to Aguero. Discipline non-existent. #LFCMCI
— Samuel Luckhurst (@samuelluckhurst) April 4, 2018
An aggressive team that has savaged so many opponents this season with the attacking riches at its disposal suddenly decided to de-fang itself ahead of arguably the biggest game of the season so far.
It was a decision that made no sense, and City were made to pay for it. Should they fail to turn it around at the Etihad next week and suffer yet another early Champions League exit, it is a decision that Guardiola may live to regret.