It was last August when Pep Guardiola left his players alone inside the dressing room of the Estadio Jose Alvalade in Lisbon. He did not say a word. Yet among his squad the whispers were about to begin.
Here they were again. Another Champions League quarter-final. Another defeat. Another failed attempt by Guardiola to tweak when he should have trusted.
They were frustrated. They told family, friends and representatives they felt Guardiola had got it wrong — and kept getting it wrong — in the big games. Some even spoke of losing their own faith in him for those huge nights.
A shattered Pep Guardiola on the night Manchester City lost to Lyon in the Champions LeagueInsurance Loans Mortgage Attorney Credit Lawyer
It's hard to doubt a manager who has brought you two Premier League titles, a domestic treble and broken more records than Roy Castle. But this was the Champions League, the one City had appointed Guardiola to win, the man in whose image they had built their club ready to be kings of Europe.
And, again, Guardiola was accused of over-thinking it. Out went City's usual system in favour of a back five that City had spent three days working on in training. All for a team who had finished seventh in Ligue 1. It didn't work and, for a third season in a row, City were out in the quarter-finals.
Guardiola had feared the sack after his first, trophy-less, season at City in 2016-17. By the time City crashed out to Lyon last year, his position amid the hierarchy was unquestionable, so close is his relationship to the club's chairman Khaldoon Al Mubarak. They wanted him to sign a new contract. Those beneath Guardiola, though, clearly had their concerns.
The defeat had come at a difficult time for Guardiola, who was mourning the loss of his mother to Covid-19 just four months earlier. City still finished the season second but 18 points behind Liverpool. They won the League Cup but then they always win the League Cup. And, you guessed it, they won the League Cup again this season.
Another quarter-final loss led to plenty of questions being asked of City manager Guardiola
Yet this time that trophy rests on a landscape unrecognisable eight months on from the Lyon defeat. City's performance against Paris Saint-Germain in the first leg of their Champions League semi-final was one of the greatest of Guardiola's tenure, especially if his side can finish the job at the Etihad on Tuesday. Victory over Crystal Palace on Saturday puts them on the brink of their third Premier League title under Guardiola in four seasons.
For all their triumph, it took a change from Guardiola, his staff and his captain around Christmas to get them there. The cloud of the Lyon defeat hung over them, the effects of the pandemic on the players' routine and lack of pre-season had taken its mental toll. At the start of the season, they looked shot.
When they drew 0-0 with Manchester United on December 12, a result that saw them drop to ninth by the end of the day, our columnist Danny Murphy wrote: 'The only people who would have taken any pleasure from watching that are Jurgen Klopp and Jose Mourinho. They will have watched it and thought: this is not a Manchester City team who will trouble us for the Premier League title.'
It was their sixth straight clean sheet