Giggs: Now Pep Guardiola knows how big his job really is at Manchester City
For the biggest clubs, elimination from the Champions League in the round of 16, and quarter-finals is always a key moment in the season, because it shines a light on whatever deficiencies you might have in the squad, and also ups the pressure in the league for the rest of the season.
We always felt that at Manchester United, a Champions League exit brought a lot of scrutiny upon the players – who might go, who would stay - and also the form in the league. Sometimes it felt that the only way to see off all that criticism was to win every remaining game in the season, and I have no doubt that Manchester City’s players will be feeling much the same way after losing to Monaco on Wednesday night.
They go into Sunday’s game against Liverpool knowing that the consequences of losing at home in terms of points and momentum will be significant. If they finish in the top four and win an FA Cup then it will be regarded as a good season – the same could be said for United too – but if they fail in both instances then questions will be asked.
I have felt since the start of the season that City did not have the team to win the Champions League or the Premier League and that the profile of their squad was just too old. For Pep Guardiola this was the biggest challenge he has taken on in terms of the personnel in his squad, compared to Barcelona and Bayern Munich, and there have been decisions made that have not helped.
"It has been a factor throughout the performances of English teams in the Champions League that the quality simply is not there any longer, or not as it was when English clubs had that good run in the competition from 2005 to 2012"
Defensively, Chelsea's success has come from their unit of three defenders and two central midfielders, as well as Thibaut Courtois in goal. That has barely changed all season. City have never been able to rely on that continuity and in goal, the decision to change Joe Hart for Claudio Bravo, and latterly Willy Caballero, has not worked.
The top managers can be extremely stubborn and when you have a track record as successful as Guardiola’s then there must be a strong temptation to do it your way every time. Who am I tell him what to do? All I can say is that when United were up against a side we knew would attack us early in a game in Europe, or when we went to places like Anfield, Sir Alex Ferguson would tweak the formation to make sure we were solid.
That would not mean we stepped back from a commitment to play attacking football. It would be something as simple as him telling the full-backs that for the first 20 minutes of a game away in the Champions League, they were not to push on in attack. He might occasionally switch a more creative midfielder for a defensively-minded one. He might ask me or Ji-sung Park to tuck in a bit more.
It did not mean that we lost our attacking edge or that we were not prepared to take risks when those risks could be rewarded, but it did mean that we were better placed to deal with the attacking threat that we knew was coming at us from an early point in the game.
It has been a factor throughout the performances of English teams in the Champions League that the quality simply is not there any longer, or not as it was when English clubs had that good run in the competition from 2005 to 2012. It seems that the very best players are concentrated elsewhere, and there is just a sprinkling of the leading players in the Premier League sides.
Aside from Sergio Aguero and Alexis Sanchez it is hard to think of the world-class players in the English Champions League squads this season. While Leicester City have gone the furthest without one it is striking when you consider how many there are at Barcelona, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich in particular. I think back to the Champions League-winning teams I played in, and the players of top quality in that 2008 team– Wayne Rooney, Cristiano Ronaldo, Rio Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidic, Patrice Evra, Edwin Van der Sar.
To win the Champions League most years, and ever more so in recent times, you need three or more of those leading players and it says something about English football that there are so few in our teams. It is not as if the money is not there to buy the best players, it just seems that the recruitment has not always been right.
Our teams also suffer from the level of competition they encounter every week in the league. You have to know the English game really well as a manager to be able to cope with the demands it makes of your players and to know how to switch those players around in order to have the right men for the right games.
Sir Alex was the master of knowing who to play when and giving everyone in the squad the incentive to have a part in a successful season. There are the key players who you have to call on most of the time but the trick is knowing when you can trust others to step up and take some of the load. That is a skill that you can only learn over time.
At this stage of the season, the pressure never relents. City are back into a major Premier League game four days after losing in Monaco, and while it can feel impossible at times to meet those demands at home and in Europe, there have been teams in the past who have shown it can be done.
More from Ryan Giggs:
- Now Pep Guardiola knows how big his job really is at Manchester City
- Why referees must show the human touch
- Archery, the right suit and teamwork: how to win a cup final
- Arsenal can still thrive – even if Arsene Wenger departs
- I wish Manchester United had signed N'Golo Kante
- The secret to closing out a Premier League title race
- Danny Rose has all the qualities of my old Man Utd mate Patrice Evra
- Why Manchester City's struggles are no surprise
- Zlatan Ibrahimovic has the same aura as Eric Cantona - and is just as lethal
- The night Antonio Conte provoked me into confronting Sir Alex Ferguson - it didn't end well
- Why old-school defending is a dying art
- Mauricio Pochettino has given Spurs a steel they used to lack
- Marcus Rashford can be Manchester United's next No. 9
- The day Pep Guardiola almost forced me to quit football
- Why Man Utd vs Arsenal was my ultimate grudge match
- How going long can beat Jurgen Klopp's gegenpress
- Why I fear this could be Liverpool's year in the Premier League title race
- I have discovered that even Arsenal players can be great company!
- Sir Alex Ferguson left a huge void at Manchester United but decline was not inevitable