Since Pep Guardiola’s appointment Manchester City manager in 2016, the Blues have amassed a scarcely believable 276 points across three seasons in the Premier League, winning England’s top flight twice as well as lifting the domestic cups on three occasions. However, this domination of the English game, whilst an incredible feat worthy of commendation, is yet to bring City any closer to achieving the main goal of our owners - the title the club has never won, the trophy Pep hasn’t got his hands on since 2011: the Champions League.
In this article we'll be going over five things that Manchester City need to do this campaign to boost their chances of seeing David Silva hold Ol’ Big Ears aloft in Istanbul come May...
Blitz The Group
Start as you mean to go on. City have historically been drawn in tough groups to begin their Champions League campaigns, facing European heavyweights Bayern Munich (three times), Barcelona, Real Madrid, Juventus and Borussia Dortmund at the first stage between 2011 and 2016. City’s luck in terms of the strength of their group rivals has improved over the past few years, partly due to our continued inclusion in Pot One for draws (this is thanks to our back-to-back Premier League title wins).
The trend seems to have continued this season as the Blues have been pitted against Shakhtar Donetsk, Dinamo Zagreb and Atalanta. These are all bearable teams on paper, and City would be sending out a real statement of intent if they were to sway aside their continental opponents with as much as we see them defeat English sides most weekends. Take advantage of the hand we’ve been dealt, and worry about the big boys when we get to them.
Having all the talent that City do is obviously an edge that we have over many of the teams we’re likely to come up against, but the Champions League has a strange way of not always adhering to people’s expectations in terms of which team beats the other. City can’t simply rely on being better than their opponents, and need to keep their wits about them in every situation.
Two preventable early goals in Monaco three seasons ago proved to be decisive in knocking City out, and a Liverpool blitz at Anfield one year later essentially sealed the fate of the tie after half an hour. This squad is packed full of experienced players who know how to keep their heads, and we’ll need them to steady the ship in the difficult moments and ensure the whole team is sticking to their task.
Don't Overthink It
This one is more for the boss than for the players. As was previously mentioned, it has been eight years since Pep Guardiola sat on the European throne, since then suffering a semi-final exit with Barcelona, three consecutive defeats at the same stage with Bayern Munich and a hat-trick of even earlier losses with Manchester City. Guardiola’s major problem in each of these failures is his tendency to over-complicate tactical set ups, in the belief that it will make his team difficult to predict and therefore more likely to catch the opponents off guard.
In reality, all this accomplishes is confusing his own players, who end up caught in two minds whether to stick to their boss’ instructions or abandon them in favour of doing their own thing. Indecision which was evident in last year’s first leg against Tottenham, when the team seemed reluctant to play expressively through fear of being caught on the counter, only to end up losing 1-0. Advice for Pep? Get them to keep playing the way they do every week domestically. It seems to work okay...
Keep It Tight At Home
This partially contradicts the point we made directly before, but this is simply common practice for teams in the Champions League and something that City don’t seem to have grasped yet. Guardiola famously stated that he 'didn’t coach defending' when he first arrived in England, and he seemed desperate to prove it in his opening campaign, going out on away goals to Monaco after a worryingly open 6-6 draw with the French side.
Last year was a similar story, as Spurs’ clinical showing at the Etihad saw them through with a 4-4 tie. These eliminations show that City are always likely to grab a goal or two, but that they are susceptible to shipping a couple of decisive ones too. Pep need to realise that it won’t kill him to commit a few extra men back in the important moments at home; a 0-0 is far more valuable than potentially exposing yourself by going all out for a comprehensive win.
Find A Little Luck
Perhaps not in our control, but definitely a key factor in Champions League success which has gone against us since we became regulars in the knockout stage of the competition. The title of this point could refer to a number of misfortunes, such as our inability to keep key players fit, but the most standout example of things not going City’s way is refereeing decisions; numerous incorrect offside and penalty calls contributed to defeat in both legs against Liverpool in 2018, and VAR took centre stage last season as it allowed a controversial hip/hand goal from Tottenham’s Fernando Llorente to stand, before ruling out a seemingly decisive Raheem Sterling goal at the death. Avoiding such rotten luck, as well as following the other instructions I have laid out, and City could well be in with a shot of European glory in 2020.
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