Neil Humphreys: Only Lionel Messi can fix Man City mess
Guardiola can't win in Europe without the Argentinian talisman
As the years pass, Pep Guardiola and Lionel Messi really are turning into the Lennon and McCartney of football.
They are rarely off-key. They can still put together a greatest hits package to rival anyone. But they only made the purest, sweetest music when they were together. Both have flourished with different line-ups, but something was always missing - the other man.
Just as Lennon's abrasive style offset McCartney's more saccharine approach in The Beatles, Messi's instinctive play balanced Guardiola's tendency to overthink tactics at Barcelona.
In the Champions League, Guardiola still insists on ticking every box, as witnessed in Manchester City's 3-1 loss against Lyon yesterday morning (Singapore time).
But Messi doesn't fit in a box. He is the box. Teams are built around him.
When that doesn't happen, the structure implodes, as witnessed in Barcelona's 8-2 defeat by Bayern Munich on Saturday.
The two men have never needed each other more.
Messi is an ageing genius in search of a settled side. Guardiola is in dire need of a prodigious talent capable of overcoming his unsettled mind in Europe.
Watching the demise of both Barcelona and City over the weekend was rather like listening to the solo work of both Lennon and McCartney. There were a couple of decent moments from Messi and Guardiola, but nothing to challenge their previous work together.
The writing has been on the wall for years now.
In Messi's case, Barcelona's insistence in following Real Madrid's archaic galacticos' model and signing the likes of Neymar, Philippe Coutinho, Ousmane Dembele and Antoine Griezmann hasn't worked.
Paying exorbitant fees for brand names in the vague hope that all the pieces might fit around the omnipresent Messi smacked of desperation and corporate greed.
After Guardiola assembled the greatest club side in living memory, Barca became fixated with the profit potential of individual superstars once he left.
An angry, disillusioned Messi has felt more like an ATM than an artist as his myopic boardroom neglected a weakening squad.
Ironically, the exact opposite applies at City. While Barca chipped away at their heritage, City tried to buy one at any cost.
Money is no object. City's owners hired Guardiola and assembled a billion-dollar squad to give them what Barcelona have taken for granted for decades: global recognition, prestige and heritage. And that lot only comes with the Champions League.
PEP'S WORST ENEMY
Unfortunately, their manager has become his worst enemy in Europe, second-guessing himself so often that he has lost the way to the final.
Guardiola's bizarre tactics against Lyon betrayed a haunted man incapable of making a rational decision. If he found himself in a Champions League room filled with open doors, he'd still walk into a wall. He cannot see clearly any more.
The weight of expectation has clouded his judgment. The Spaniard has over-thought and underwhelmed in the knock-out stages since Chelsea shocked Barcelona in 2012.
When he was in charge at Bayern in 2014, Guardiola told his players to drop their usual, considered approach for all-out attack against Real. Guardiola later said the 4-0 defeat was the "biggest f*** up of my life as a coach".
There is stiff competition.
Last season, City closed shop against Tottenham Hotspur, handing the attacking initiative to the inferior Londoners. In 2018, he squeezed his midfield against Liverpool and suffocated City's creativity.
Against Lyon, he picked a shaky back three, threw in a couple of defensive-minded midfielders and left a pair of Silvas and Phil Foden on the bench.
Guardiola wasn't just wary of his French opponents. He revered them. Less respect was given to Marlon Brando in The Godfather.
And it's proving a hard habit to break. A manager renowned for his attacking impulses in domestic competitions feels compelled to rein in his most attacking talents in the Champions League.
Such a schizophrenic tactical approach goes back a decade. Guardiola hasn't reached the final since 2011. He hasn't taken City past the quarter-finals in four attempts. He seems incapable of controlling his most controlling tendencies.
But he can't control Messi. No one can. Nor would Guardiola drop Messi for a Champions League quarter-final, whatever the circumstances.
At 33, Messi knows he'll never reach another Champions League final with Barcelona. At 49, Guardiola knows that an elite coaching cycle rarely extends past a decade for even the most gifted of managers.
Time is not a friend to either man, but they may still have each other.
Lennon and McCartney never reunited in the end, but Messi and Guardiola could yet give us one more hit as long as they come together, right now.