Guardiola laments UCL exit: “We forgot to play in the first half”

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Pep Guardiola will have undoubtedly learned of a thousand new realities in his first season managing in the Premier League — some were to be expected, some maybe not so much — but the UEFA Champions League is far from foreign to the three-time European champion (once as a player, twice as a coach).

[ RECAP: Man City collapse (twice) in Monaco, fail to reach QFs ]

That makes Manchester City’s elimination in the 2016-17 Champions League round of 16 all the more disappointing — and leaves the PL with just a single club, defending champions (and current 15th-place side) Leicester City, competing in the quarterfinals.

It was Guardiola’s starting 11, which put the defensive responsibilities of an entire midfield on the shoulders of one man, Fernandinho, and left City exposed time and again on the counter. Monaco hit twice in the first half, and again late in the second to level the tie on at 6-6 on aggregate, and advance on away goals. After the game, Guardiola lauded the second-half performance, but wasn’t as impressed with the opening 45 minutes — quotes from the BBC:

“We played exceptional second half, but we forgot to do that in the first. We wanted to defend aggressively. We were better in the second but it wasn’t enough.

“Normally we play to a good level but here we didn’t. We will learn. The team does not have a lot of experience.

“The second half we had the chances and we didn’t take them and that is why we are out. And set pieces are so important at this level. Barcelona and Real Madrid scored from them last week. We were not there and we were not there in the first 45 minutes.

“We will improve but this competition is so demanding. Sometimes we have to be special and be lucky. We were not.”

With a little luck — and a few million dollars — there’s every chance in the world that we’ll see Monaco full backs Benjamin Mendy and Djibril Sidibe, who torched City over the two legs and would fill arguably the side’s greatest positional need, in City blue come August. Guardiola will apply every lesson learned — over the entire season, and on Wednesday — in undertaking the task of shaping his squad in the transfer window.

Challenging on all fronts in 2017-18 was always the target anyway.