Neil Humphreys: Pep Guardiola pointing finger in the wrong direction
Manchester City manager should blame himself, not VAR
Pep Guardiola gave two fingers to the world.
Winston Churchill once offered a V for victory. Guardiola delivered a V for VAR, raging against the replay machines.
His two fingers were a protest against perceived injustices, but they were also a fitting metaphor for the Manchester City manager.
His world was slipping through his fingers.
They launched a thousand memes, but also covered a multitude of sins. His pantomime petulance ensured a handy distraction, forcing us to look away from the real culprit: himself.
As he threw V-signs in people's faces with a frenzied enthusiasm not seen since The Sex Pistols, he must have known that he was buying time.
Funny memes. Viral clips. Twitter parodies. They are dominating a media landscape that should be filled with words like Claudio Bravo, Angelino and Riyad Mahrez.
After Liverpool's victory, Guardiola made a demand of the media. Ask the "big bosses" to explain a couple of disputed handball decisions, he said.
Ask the refereeing hierarchy to explain VAR's latest inconsistencies, which was a probably a smarter approach than asking City's big bosses to explain a lack of depth in an obscenely priced squad.
The perceived stubbornness among the men making VAR decisions is a little different to the man making team decisions at City. Guardiola's devotion to his own philosophy is both a blessing and a curse.
When he's right, he's right. When he's wrong, he's still right. So VAR must be wrong instead.
The world's richest club arrived at the home of Europe's most swashbuckling club with more temporary patches than a kid's school bag. Guardiola can get away with his selection peculiarities against lesser sides, but not Liverpool.
He played a makeshift centre-back in Fernandinho, a committed footballer but hardly Vincent Kompany in his prime. He also threw in John Stones, who struggles to play like John Stones in his prime.
Nicolas Otamendi was a non-starter, in every sense.
Guardiola's bizarre decision to sign only one centre-back in 21/2 years almost looks like pig-headedness now. It's worrying.
Sometimes, the Spaniard's characteristic dogma works. He ignored conventional wisdom and got rid of crowd favourite Joe Hart, claiming the goalkeeper couldn't use his feet properly.
But the same resolve led to Claudio Bravo's signing and the Chilean's mediocrity against Liverpool was dispiriting because it was typically low-key. There were no standout blunders, just a weary acceptance that Ederson would've probably saved two of the Reds' goals. And Bravo wouldn't.
So he didn't.
It's the same dogma that left a fit Benjamin Mendy in the stands and shoved a young Angelino out to face Trent Alexander-Arnold, which was like sending out a kid's umbrella to face a tornado.
Angelino had previously started only one EPL game.
Guardiola loves confounding critics. He gets a kick from pulling a rabbit from the hat - or a Fernandinho from central midfield - just to show off his tactical audacity. And he so often gets it right.
But a reserve goalkeeper, an erratic centre-back, an out-of-position centre-back and an EPL rookie at left-back was not so much a magic act as it was an unsuccessful illusion. No one bought into the spectacle.
Guardiola failed to strengthen his defence, but lavished £60 million (S$105m) on Mahrez. The Algerian never left the bench.
City were desperate for a breakthrough and Sergio Aguero had picked the wrong week to leave his shooting boots in Manchester. Mahrez was signed for games like this. But his manager doesn't trust him. Uncertainty reigns.
Guardiola's sides are so often works of art, but he appears less interested in the framework. He reveres splashes of colour and bought Mahrez, Bernardo Silva and Kevin de Bruyne.
But he didn't buy anyone who might hold the canvas together. He didn't buy a player like Virgil van Dijk.
His unswerving devotion to the attacking model that makes City so engaging is also making them so porous at back.
Whether that's idealism or dogma depends on one's point of view.
But City won't be retaining the title with Bravo and the brittle back four.
The two-finger jabbing, the V-signs in every direction and the melodramatic cry of "twice" towards the heavens made for terrific entertainment.
Guardiola's Oscar-worthy turn was also a sly bit of misdirection. But sooner or later, he might be forced to point an accusing finger at himself.