Is this the year Manchester City finally win the Champions League?
For all of Manchester City’s success in recent seasons, there is still one missing piece to the club’s jigsaw – the Champions League. For years now the club has toiled in the hopes of finally landing that maiden European crown, but a single semi-final appearance in the 2015-16 campaign is the most City have to show for their efforts. Recently, three successive quarter-final exits have meant that the Champions League is becoming something of a mental block for Pep Guardiola’s side, and that is something the club will want to put right sooner rather than later.
Each year we seem to ask if this is the season for Manchester City to finally realise their potential in Europe, and each year they fail to deliver on expectations, and indeed the Champions League odds, which always have them as a top contender to win the competition. Last year was perhaps the most disappointing exit yet. The single-legged nature of the Champions League knockout stage, applied because of the coronavirus pandemic, gave City an excellent chance of finally getting their hands on the European Cup, but a shock defeat to Lyon in the quarter-finals meant it was sayonara once again for Guardiola’s men.
And so, another Champions League knockout campaign lies just around the corner, and with City facing familiar opposition in the form of Borussia Mönchengladbach, it’s no surprise that the Manchester club are being tipped to easily progress to the quarter-finals. The two clubs have been pitted against each other in the group stage twice over the last five years or so, and City have won three and drawn one of their four encounters, so it’s no surprise that few are giving Mönchengladbach a prayer going into this last-16 tie.
But complacency is something that must be guarded against, and it’s that ‘c’ word that as been brought up time and time again in regards to City’s Champions League woes. In the quarter-final tie against Liverpool in 2018, the then runaway Premier League leaders City were favourites to progress, but they were blown away by Liverpool’s intensity, ultimately losing 5-1 on aggregate.
A similar story defined their quarter-final defeat to Tottenham a year later, when despite their superior league position, City lost out on away goals after a meek first-leg performance. To avoid a similar occurrence this season, they’ll need to give Mönchengladbach plenty of respect. With the German side lying 7th in the Bundesliga table, it’s a challenge that Guardiola’s men should easily rise to, but the fact that Mönchengladbach advanced from a Champions League group containing Real Madrid, Inter Milan and Shakhtar Donetsk means that they are no mugs on the European stage.
Should City progress, then there’ll be no doubt that Guardiola will be putting every ounce of effort into ensuring they don’t suffer a fourth successive quarter-final exit. Too many times have City wilted under the pressure in Europe and failed to deliver performances which back up their credentials. For their supporters in particular, there is a feeling that now is the time to buck up their ideas and finally assert themselves in Europe’s premier club competition.