Guardiola brings silent Treble into view as Man City defence embarrasses Upamecano and Carragher

Matt Stead
Jack Grealish tackles Dayot Upamecano

Manchester City dismantled Bayern Munich and do not seem plagued by those self-destructive Champions League tendencies which have undermined Pep Guardiola.


In an instant, everything and nothing made sense. It was a backwards goal in a game played with the fast-forward button stuck: Jack Grealish pressing and winning possession; Erling Haaland rampaging through on goal before clipping a composed cross to the back post; Bernardo Silva powering a header past Yann Sommer.

It all came from a Dayot Upamecano mistake, neither the first nor the last the Bayern Munich centre-half would make at the Etihad. Those familiar with the recent defensive discourse might not be surprised to learn that this – this – was the player Jamie Carragher once encouraged Liverpool to fast-track the signing of to replace an injured Virgil van Dijk.

It was an individual performance haphazard enough to earn a commentary-bestowed moniker of “The Nervous Upamecano” by the end. His was not the only head lost in the eye of a Manchester City storm, but it was certainly the most pronounced.

If there is no collective noun for a cluster of simultaneous existential crises yet then this was a compelling argument to call it a Bayern. And this was a Bayern of the most epic proportions on the grandest stage under the brightest lights.

Julian Nagelsmann would have deeply enjoyed this evening’s viewing in between blanking Daniel Levy’s calls. Bayern Munich have recovered their footing in the Bundesliga since his ignominious sacking but Thomas Tuchel has, in the space of a week, presided over a first DFB-Pokal home defeat and the club’s biggest Champions League loss in six years.

The last Bayern manager to suffer such a heavy European Cup knockout-stage defeat was the over-thinking bald fraud who schooled them here. Pep Guardiola lost a semi-final first leg 3-0 to Barcelona in 2015 and a semi-final second leg 4-0 to Real Madrid the year prior. The European dimension of his reign at the Allianz Arena was soon plagued by accusations of it all being for nought if he could not deliver The Big One. That has become a familiar refrain with each passing season and every laboured press conference at Manchester City during which he must field questions about whether he would be deemed a failure with the dripping sarcasm of an overthinking bald fraud.

When his players dismantle a supposedly elite opponent in this manner then you can at least understand why the point is raised each campaign. Manchester City at their best are so utterly brilliant, so ruthlessly, outrageously spectacular, that any occasion on which they don’t win the Champions League must be the result of self-sabotage. All being well, fair and even, no-one else can keep up.

They will know that that same mistake has been made before but this does feel slightly different. Haaland helps in that regard, ensuring a period of home dominance was rewarded with an assist and a goal when the tie had been finely poised.

But Manchester City seem hungry and battle-hardened. The defence was not perfect but it was belligerent and stubborn in its refusal to cede any tangible advantage whatsoever. John Stones was impeccable. Rodri and Nathan Ake, too. Ruben Dias repelled everything, including a goal-bound Jamal Musiala shot shortly before Rodri’s stunning opener.

Rodri, Manchester City, April 2023

That in itself will stick in the back of Manchester City minds. The margins at this level remain so fine. Less than two minutes separated the Dias block from Rodri’s drop of the shoulder on Musiala and curled effort with his weaker foot from outside the area, shaped around the excellent Joshua Kimmich.

The momentum of the match and the tide of the tie swung on those moments. The two teams took turns attacking in waves: Leroy Sane shot just wide in stoppage time shortly after Benjamin Pavard’s last-ditch tackle on Kevin de Bruyne thwarted a glorious back-to-front move; Sane nearly equalised after Matthijs de Ligt’s line-breaking pass, then Grealish pressed Sommer and his teammates into suffering a Bayern; De Ligt and Kingsley Coman had headers blocked from a corner by Ake and Dias, both of whom forced saves from a corner almost straight after.

There was even a Silva triple nutmeg along the way.

Any one of those oscillations could have gone against Manchester City but that element of luck which so often abandons them in this competition was present too. If they can continue to harness it in unison with their ludicrous talents on the pitch and in the dugout, that will make for a potent combination.

History tells us that the factor Manchester City often cannot account for is themselves. But nine straight wins in three different competitions at an aggregate score of 34-3 in mid-April is not indicative of an anxious team struggling under pressure. With a silent Treble in view, Guardiola and his players might finally have timed everything just right.