Does Man City's latest Champions League exit mean Pep Guardiola is overrated?

By George Davis, Mariah Ramharak&Lance Whittaker April 17, 2019

Pep Guardiola has not reached back to the final of the Champions League since leaving Barcelona.  Were those who appointed him the best coach in the world following his early successes too quick to do so?

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  • Should I bet the Eiffel Tower? - Dani Alves confident Neymar will stay at PSG Should I bet the Eiffel Tower? - Dani Alves confident Neymar will stay at PSG

    Dani Alves said he would be willing to bet the Eiffel Tower that Paris Saint-Germain team-mate Neymar is still in the French capital next season.

    Neymar criticised PSG's younger players following a Coupe de France final loss to Rennes last month and the world's most expensive player continues to be linked with a move back to Spain.

    While a return to Barcelona has been suggested, Real Madrid are also considered possible suitors as they look to rebuild after a disappointing campaign.

    Kylian Mbappe's comments about wanting "more responsibilities" also cast doubt over Neymar's long-term future in Paris, yet Alves is ready to wager the city's most recognisable landmark that his fellow Brazilian will be staying put.

    Asked whether he would be willing to bet a dinner that Neymar would stay, Alves told ESPN: "A dinner is not enough. Should I bet the Eiffel Tower?

    "I believe that he will stay with PSG.

    "If Madrid calls me, I'd say no. And if it calls me to ask about Neymar, I'd say no as well."

    Alves, himself a former Barcelona star, thinks a return to Camp Nou is also unlikely for Neymar.

    "I think it's very difficult," he added. "People inside Barca, I think, won't be willing to acknowledge that they need him.

    "And that's a problem, you can't go anywhere guided by your ego. You can't let your ego dictate your life.

    "Barca has that problem and they won't recognise that they need him and that already drives him away from Barca.

    "Which side doesn't need Ney? Everyone needs Ney."

    PSG retained the Ligue 1 title this season but failed to win either the Coupe de France or Coupe de la Ligue, while they exited the Champions League at the last-16 stage.

    Alves believes it is only natural that such disappointment has left Neymar displeased.

    "He is not happy since he didn't get the results he wanted and that brings him unhappiness," he added.

    "I would beat the c**p out of him if he feels happy without winning."

  • Copa del Rey final: Valencia can see a bright future after 11 years in the shadows Copa del Rey final: Valencia can see a bright future after 11 years in the shadows

    It started with that rarest of sights: a Juan Mata header.

    David Villa and David Silva combined down the left, the latter picked out a perfect cross - of course - and Mata supplied the finish, committing every bit of his five-foot-seven-inch frame to an awkward nodding of the ball beyond Oscar Ustari.

    This was four minutes into the 2008 Copa del Rey final against Getafe, a game Valencia went on to win 3-1. It remains their only trophy since 2004, when they claimed LaLiga, the UEFA Cup and the UEFA Super Cup and threatened to become one of Spain's dominant forces. It was the first title in the club careers of Mata and Silva, and the third for Villa, those three precociously talented forwards leading a mismatched unit of players who had either survived the heady days of four years earlier or were brought in to patch up holes in the squad by one of five different head coaches.

    And yet, this was not a successful season. Ronald Koeman was sacked two weeks later after they were battered 5-1 by Athletic Bilbao, and they went on to finish 10th in LaLiga, 34 points behind champions Real Madrid. The Copa final, then, was little more than a reprieve from the poor results, the uncertain club management, the concerns about rising debt levels and the unfinished new stadium, an all-too visual reminder of their institutional problems. Within the next three years, Mata, Villa and Silva were all gone.

    But Valencia are back in the Copa del Rey final again. Barcelona are the opponents - the team they beat in the two-legged semi-final 11 years ago. And this time, it doesn't feel like a distraction from greater concerns. This time, it feels very much part of the big picture, that there is something on the horizon; that there is even a horizon at all.

    "Valencia used to be a very nervy club and they'd go through lots of coaches and sporting directors," Koeman recently told Marca. "A club that isn't calm and has so many changes isn't going to win much.

    "Now, things seem to be calmer and they have an experienced coach that gives everyone a job and gets results. This is very important. In my time, we never had the necessary calmness, and this was reflected on the pitch."

    Valencia's story in 2018-19 has been typically eventful. They started the league season without a win in six and failed to get out of the Champions League group stage, despite a home victory over Manchester United. At the halfway stage in LaLiga, they were 10th, 10 points off the top four and only four clear of relegation. "I've genuinely never seen anything like this," said coach Marcelino, aghast at a run of bad results and even worse luck that seemingly had him on the brink of the sack.

    The Valencia of 11 years ago would almost certainly have fired him. Maybe even two or three seasons back, in the early part of Peter Lim's ownership of the club, the wells of patience would have run dry quickly. But not this time. Not this season. 

    "In other circumstances, they could have got rid of the boss," said captain Dani Parejo in January. "There's a stability now and the club knows where it's going. Coaches aren't working with the idea that 'Maybe they'll get rid of me tomorrow' any more. And you can feel that."

    They did feel it. Eleven wins and three defeats from their final 19 league games propelled them back into the top four at just the right moment, vindicating faith in Marcelino. Off the pitch, the club celebrated its centenary, a strong commercial programme helping to engage fans who months previously had been furiously brandishing those infamous white hankies. Their operating budget is now said to be the fourth highest in the division, and a sale of the stadium land was agreed in April, meaning the half-built Nou Mestalla could, at long last, be completed in the coming seasons.

    "This weekend is an opportunity for Valencia to drive home the message – both in Spain and around the world – that, win or lose, Valencia CF is back and ready to compete with the best of the best," the club said on Friday in a review of their remarkable season. Like a Juan Mata headed goal, that's something that would have been hard to believe when that final got underway 11 years ago.

  • Majestic Messi, Bale's bliss, Sevilla slaughtered – Barcelona's five successive Copa del Rey finals Majestic Messi, Bale's bliss, Sevilla slaughtered – Barcelona's five successive Copa del Rey finals

    Barcelona are aiming for a record fifth successive Copa del Rey triumph on Saturday when they face Valencia, with the Catalans' recent dominance in the competition seeing them reach the final sixth times in a row.

    If Ernesto Valverde's men complete the feat, they will certainly have done it the hard way, as they have had to get past Real Madrid and Sevilla en route to the final and will now face a Valencia side who finished fourth in LaLiga.

    The pressure is on, however. Barca disappointed supporters by failing to reach the Champions League final, despite beating Liverpool 3-0 in the semi-final first leg, and some are calling for Valverde to lose his job.

    Winning only LaLiga when a treble looked extremely likely just a few weeks ago could potentially spell doom for the head coach, but the omens are good for Barca, as their previous five finals have shown…

    2013-14: Real Madrid 2-1 Barcelona

    Having seen LaLiga and the Champions League move out of reach in the build-up, Barca – and specifically coach Gerardo Martino – needed a victory in the 2013-14 final. Things got off to a bad start when Angel Di Maria opened the scoring after a good move in the 11th minute. Marc Bartra levelled with a powerful second-half header, but Gareth Bale clinched the first piece of silverware of his career with a spectacular late solo winner, consigning Barca to their first trophyless season since 2008, which cost Martino his job.

    2014-15: Athletic Bilbao 1-3 Barcelona

    If 2013-14 was a failure, the following season was the complete opposite. Having already wrapped up the league title, Barca cruised to victory in the Copa, giving club great Xavi the ideal final Camp Nou outing. The magnificent Lionel Messi starred, opening the scoring with a marvellous solo effort, before Neymar rounded off a flowing move for 2-0. Their Argentinian talisman ended Athletic's chances towards the end, with Inaki Williams' goal a mere consolation. Barca then went on to complete a treble with a 3-1 win over Juventus in the Champions League final.

    2015-16: Barcelona 2-0 Sevilla (AET)

    Fresh from beating Liverpool in the Europa League final, Sevilla were eager to upset another European giant. Barca were not helped by Javier Mascherano's dismissal for hauling down Kevin Gameiro in the first half, but they ended up managing the rest of the regulation 90 minutes fairly well and the numbers were evened up late on when Ever Banega was sent off. Barca simply had too much for Sevilla in extra time, as Jordi Alba and then Neymar got the goals, while Daniel Carrico was shown the game's third red card.

    2016-17: Barcelona 3-1 Deportivo Alaves

    A first ever Copa final for Alaves promised little given who they were up against. A Theo Hernandez free-kick offered them a measure of hope just after Messi's 30th-minute opener, but Barca ultimately had things wrapped by half-time, with Neymar and Paco Alcacer putting the game beyond Mauricio Pellegrino's men. Having missed out on the league title, Copa success at least meant Barca did not end the campaign empty-handed, with Luis Enrique leaving his post shortly after.

    2017-18: Sevilla 0-5 Barcelona

    While Barca's Copa tussle with Sevilla in 2016 was a gripping encounter, last season's meeting showed an alarming gulf. Andres Iniesta starred in what proved to be his last final for the club, scoring the fourth goal, but victory was effectively secured by half-time given a Luis Suarez double and a solitary Messi effort had them 3-0 up at the interval. Philippe Coutinho's penalty finished things off, as Barca went on to seal a domestic double, while Sevilla sacked Montella a week later.

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