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Pep Guardiola insists Manchester City still had an ‘exceptional’ year despite Champions League loss

Pep Guardiola insists Manchester City still had an ‘exceptional season’ despite Champions League final loss… and defends his controversial pre-match decision to play without either Fernandinho or Rodri in midfield

Manchester City coach Pep Guardiola said their season remained an exceptional one despite the campaign ending in disappointment with a 1-0 defeat by Chelsea in Saturday’s Champions League final.

City clinched a fifth Premier League title in the last 10 years with ease this season, Guardiola’s third domestic crown since arriving at the club, but the Champions League continues to remain elusive after Kai Havertz’s winning goal for Chelsea.

It was City’s first appearance in the final of Europe’s elite club competition but they ultimately came up short, but Guardiola was still happy with his side’s work this term.

Pep Guardiola walks past the Champions League trophy following his Manchester City side’s 1-0 defeat by Chelsea in the final held at the Estadio do Dragao

‘I would like to say it was an exceptional season for us,’ said the Spaniard. ‘It was a dream for us to be here, unfortunately we could not win.

‘For most of us in this club it is the first time here, but we work to come back one day.

‘It was a tough season in the pandemic, but we learn from this for the future. I have incredible respect for the players, they gave everything, but we will come back stronger. I want to congratulate them for their exceptional season.’

Guardiola has won two Champions League titles as a manager, both with Barcelona, but none since 2011, and was again unable to bring City their first European Cup.

Striker Sergio Aguero (right) looks on as Chelsea players celebrate winning the final 1-0

Striker Sergio Aguero (right) looks on as Chelsea players celebrate winning the final 1-0

City, who won the League Cup as well as the Premier League title, have been relentless at times this season, but on their big night they could only muster one shot on target all match.

Guardiola named both of his recognised holding midfielders, Fernandinho and Rodri, on the substitutes’ bench and instead opted for Ilkay Gundogan in a deeper role. The Catalan was fiercely criticised for the pre-match tinkering, something he has been derided for in this competition over his reign as manager.

‘I decided the decision, to have quality players. Gundogan played many years in this position,’ Guardiola said. ‘To have speed, to find the small spaces, the quality, the brilliant players, inside, in the middle and between the lines. This was the decision.’

Guardiola left out Rodri (second right) as he elected to play without a defensive midfielder

Guardiola left out Rodri (second right) as he elected to play without a defensive midfielder

Chelsea boss Thomas Tuchel added: ‘We expected Fernandinho in the line-up. They chose a very offensive line-up. Very technical. It was important that we stepped out of the back five to support our midfield. We had to play with a strong bond and that is exactly what we did.’

Guardiola insisted that City did enough to take the final into extra-time. ‘We have to learn from this,’ he said. ‘This season was exceptional. We’ll come back strong in the future.

‘We played a real good final. We showed courage. They did everything. I just want to congratulate them for this season. The game was exceptional, it was the first time we were here.

‘The way we played, try to break them down in the second half. Chelsea are a really good team. It was tight. We deserved to score a goal in the second half.

Fernandinho was also left out and could not influence a comeback after coming on as a sub

Fernandinho was also left out and could not influence a comeback after coming on as a sub

‘Arriving here was really good. We competed incredibly well the whole season. Go home, take a break for two weeks and then we’ll decide with the club what is best for the next years.’   

‘We struggled with long balls and second balls. In that moment you need the inspiration and quality, there were three or four moments that were close but didn’t arrive. 

‘We played in the Champions League final, we won the Premier League again and competed well all season. Now, I want to go home with my family I have not seen for a long time, take a break, and start working on how to approach next season.’

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