Time to shut the pundits up and give the fans a night to remember in Russia

By Stephen Stein, Tue 07 December 2021 09:57

Time to shut the pundits up and give the  fans a night to remember in Russia 

It's become an annual talking point for pundits when the Champions League knockout stages are reached: when will City claim the trophy their game is so suited to winning?

The Sky Blues are in prime position to justify their favourite’s tag and succeed in Russia next May, but they were in the same position last season, when arguably they were in better shape. But as all City fans know, they fell at the final hurdle, and the less said about the game in Porto the better.

The Sky Blues faithful know they should have won it by now, as do most opposing fans who’ve witnessed Pep Guardiola’s side in full flow – at times they’re unplayable.

But it’s eluded them so far, and with the state of flux surrounding some of the biggest names in European football, it shouldn’t for much longer.

City personnel may have already scouted a suitable base near St Petersburg just in case, and it would appear if they can avoid their competitors for the Premier League title before the final, then they should be in Russia on May 28.

Holders Chelsea and 2019 winners Liverpool will both have ambitions of a league and Champions League double, and it is difficult to see beyond the English trio for potential winners.

According to Offers.Bet, the bookies believe City will be in St Petersburg, installing them as 3/1 favourites to win that most famous trophy a first time, with Liverpool at 5/1 and Chelsea 6/1. Bayern Munich, winners in 2020, are second favourites at 4/1, and PSG are 6/1.

Bayern lead the non-English betting and despite boasting a team of high quality, it is difficult to see beyond the huge talents of Robert Lewandowski, currently seen as the best striker in world football. PSG are in the same boat as City when it comes to the Champions League, both reaching one final but never winning. 

After the big five it’s outsider territory, with Spanish football going through something of a barren spell on the big stage – Real Madrid are only 16/1 to win a trophy they lifted on three successive occasions between 2016 and 2018.

The value in the betting may lie in the shape of Ajax, 20/1, the Dutch giants cruising through their group and qualifying with ease.

Managed by the highly-rated and much sought-after Erik van Teg, Ajax look a better side than when they reached the semi-finals in 2019, famously beaten by Spurs after being two goals ahead. They made Borussia Dortmund look ordinary home and away, and up front have Sebastian Haller, a revelation since he made the switch from West Ham.

But they should be no match for City, with Guardiola’s side showing they have adapted their system to play without an out-and-out striker spearheading their attack.

So long as they have players scoring all over the park, the lack of a successor to Sergio Aguero can be managed – the question is for how long?

It is clearly an issue, with the failure to replace Aguero something that weighs heavy on the mind of Guardiola, and many of the fans. The protracted summer pursuit of Harry Kane proved a wasteful exercise that only succeeded in creating dozens of stories online and in the printed press.

The latest name being bandied about for the striking role is Dusan Vlahovic, the Fiorentina 21-year-old is currently topping the scoring charts in Serie A. Despite his 6ft 2in frame, he is not a typical target man; more in the mould of Edin Dzeko, a player many City fans still hold in the highest of regards.

His progression over the last couple of years has alerted the interest of many clubs, which ironically includes Tottenham Hotspur, who were looking at the Serbian as a potential replacement for Harry Kane.

City, however, are capable of filling the hole left by Aguero’s departure with the likes of Bernardo Silva, Riyad Mahrez and Phil Foden weighing in with regular goals.