Kevin De Bruyne believes Manchester City are close to cracking the Champions League despite another premature exit.
City suffered quarter-final anguish for a third successive year as they went down 3-1 to unfancied Lyon in Lisbon on Saturday.
It was an unusually disjointed, overly-cautious and joyless performance from a City side that looked so impressive in defeating Real Madrid last week and had run up some other big wins since lockdown.
Despite that, De Bruyne felt the difference came down to small margins.
“It’s a little bit of a shame because we had good hopes to do well this year,” said the Belgium playmaker, who had given City hope at the Jose Alvalade Stadium when he made it 1-1 on 69 minutes.
“I don’t think we are far away. At this level it’s small details and here the difference was we made mistakes and they scored, and the chances we created we didn’t score (from). That’s the minimal difference.
“In the first half, we didn’t play the way we usually do. We didn’t create enough, we didn’t find the chances.
“In the second half we played much better, we created many chances, but the main difference was that they had two chances in the second half and they scored two goals.”
Questions have been asked of Pep Guardiola’s tactics, with the City boss playing a three-man defence with two deep midfielders in Rodri and Ilkay Gundogan shielding them.
It was a plan that did not work and left the likes of De Bruyne, Raheem Sterling and Gabriel Jesus further up the field too isolated as a well-organised Lyon defence soaked up much pressure.
The tireless De Bruyne pulled City back into the game when he cancelled out Maxwel Cornet’s first-half opener but controversy followed when substitute Moussa Dembele restored Lyon’s lead despite a possible foul in the build-up.
There was a lengthy delay while VAR checked a coming together between Dembele and Aymeric Laporte but the goal was given.
That left City chasing the game again and the enduring image of the night came four minutes from time when Sterling remarkably contrived to miss an open goal from five yards.
With a glorious chance to make it 2-2 and perhaps force extra time gone, Dembele compounded City’s woes by pouncing on a late Ederson error to make it 3-1.
De Bruyne refused to criticise his team-mate Sterling, who had created the equaliser and had otherwise been one of City’s better players.
De Bruyne said: “We still had seven or eight minutes (including injury time) so we could still (equalise).
“But obviously then they scored the third goal and the game was over. I don’t blame Raheem. It’s football, he did so many good things. That’s the way it goes.”
One player who did catch the eye was Lyon midfielder Houssem Aouar, the 22-year-old who has recently been linked with City, Arsenal and Juventus, among others.
De Bruyne said: “Lyon have a great team. I don’t follow the French league as much as other leagues, but if I have to pick one player that has impressed me from Lyon, it would be Houssem Aouar. He was fantastic.”