The quadruple dream is over for Pep Guardiola, but was it a necessary sacrifice?
The Spanish manager witnessed firsthand last week — when a 10-man Leeds beat Manchester City away with a 2-1 score — that rotating his starting line-up in order to rest his players for four different competitions isn’t always viable.
While viewers might have been waiting with bated breath to see if City’s dreams would end with a Champions League elimination, it was the FA Cup semifinals that snuck up on them instead, where Chelsea beat City last evening in a 1-0 result (Hakim Ziyech scored at the 55th minute; the match marked Chelsea's 14th clean sheet in 19 games under Thomas Tuchel). Even more dangerous for City is an injury to Kevin De Bruyne, who limped off at the start of the second half after twisting his ankle; the remainder of his season is now a big question mark.
City — who were hoping for a quadruple victory with the FA Cup, League Cup, Champions League and Premier League — will now have to adjust expectations. Perhaps a humble treble? The Chelsea clash could very well be practice for the upcoming final of the Champions League, should City and Chelsea both win their semifinal matches (against PSG and Real Madrid, respectively) to meet again during the final.
'Don't say we don't pay attention'
Knowing Guardiola, he will play a different squad entirely on Europe’s biggest stage, despite arguing to the press that his team selection for the FA Cup semi-final wasn’t a product of “not paying enough attention” to the competition. Alas, many feel that the boss underestimated either Chelsea, the competition, or both.
“What can I say? When you have two and half days to recover and you play away and you have to travel on the train for three hours,” argued Guardiola
“But don’t say we don’t pay attention. A team that arrives in the final stages of this competition couldn’t say that. This team won four Carabao Cups so just say we lost the game. But it’s a poor argument. You wouldn’t get to semi-finals of the FA Cup and Carabao Cup if we’re not paying attention. We always play to win and congratulations to Chelsea.
“These guys in 10 months have fought in every game like never I’ve seen before. We lose a game against a top side and now we don’t pay attention. We respect a lot the FA Cup,” he added.
Perhaps the truth is somewhere between both arguments. Maybe it isn’t that Guardiola isn’t paying attention — but that he has to make unlikely and unlikeable choices. Maybe it was always expecting too much, to anticipate a record-breaking quadruple out of his side (in the midst of a pandemic, no less, that has altered the realities of the world and football).
Guardiola may have already known that a treble would be a much more realistic target than a quadruple, and with City potentially being three matches away from winning the Champions League for the first time in the club’s history, clear priorities are what he’s chasing.
“This is the second time we have got to the semi-finals [of the Champions League], so there is not much history for our club here, but we will start to build it,” Guardiola told BT Sport, after beating Dortmund to stay in the competition.
City have ten days before they meet PSG away for the first leg of the Champions League on April 28. The second leg will take place on May 4.