City go into derby with rare taste of defeat
Pep Guardiola always knew this moment would come, that a defeat when you are trying to win four competitions is inevitable, but even if this was a game Manchester City could afford to lose, the timing could not be much worse.
City were already assured of topping their Champions League group, but they were not just beaten by Shakhtar, they were outplayed, and on Sunday they travel to Manchester United, their neighbours and closest rivals in the title race. They will walk into Old Trafford shorn of their cloak of invincihe bility and will find Jose Mourinho’s men waiting, well drilled and rested. If he had already spotted any weaknesses to exploit, Mourinho will have been delighted how easily Shakhtar sliced through City on the counter-attack, even if this was a very different starting XI to the one United will face.
Shakhtar’s success led to the bizarre sight of their coach, Paulo Fonseca, donning a Zorro mask for the post-match press conference. He once told supporters it would be his costume of choice for a fancy dress party, and he then promised would wear it in the event of Shakhtar making the last 16.
This defeat for City can be excused, the result did not really matter and Guardiola made seven changes to the team, but it must be viewed in a wider context. City’s early season momentum made them look unstoppable, but there were signs they had started to stutter before this taxing trip across Europe, and no defeat can be dismissed as irrelevant.
After the unimpressive performance against Feyenoord, the late winner against Southampton and the laboured victory over West Ham, they go into the busiest period of the season, the bleak midwinter that has always concerned Guardiola after last year’s barren run, with an unfamiliar losing sensation. They have new questions to answer, a different sort of test to pass.
This was the first time City have been beaten since April, it is by no means a disaster, but it adds another layer of intrigue to this most frantic of footballing months. Lose again at the weekend and City really will appear vulnerable.
Guardiola almost sounded relieved this first defeat had been inflicted. “It is never nice to lose a game,” said Guardiola. “But it’s part of our profession and I think it is good for the club, good for the players, good for everybody because we were always going to lose a game. Now we need to have the right reaction on Sunday.”
Guardiola may have made his senior players travel to Ukraine, but he did not work them, the most eye-catching of the seven changes a first senior start for Phil Foden.
At 17 years and 192 days, he became the youngest Englishman – or should that be boy – to start a Champions League game, although it turned into an experience that will be filed under sobering for the young man from Stockport. There was also a second Champions League start for another young Englishman, defender Tosin Adarabioyo – another local talent from Greater Manchester – although it was his missed tackle on Bernard that almost gave Shakhtar an early lead, Fernandinho covering for his mistake with a vital block on Facundo Ferreyra.
Shakhtar were brighter and sharper. Taison threatened with his speed over the ground, running clear of Yaya Toure before feeding Marlos, whose shot was comfortably saved by Ederson. It was a warning of what was to come.
Taison once again made the inci-