Champions League is City’s to lose
By Guest writer, Wed 19 October 2022 18:21
Can the Blues go one step further in Europe this season?
Pep Guardiola’s side proved their mettle last season recovering from a devastating loss to Real Madrid in the Champions League semi-finals to pip Liverpool to the title in incredible fashion. It may have been the fourth in five years, but it was yet another grueling test for City to hold off an incredible challenge from Liverpool. While there are some concerns that City are potentially turning the Premier League into a monopoly, it belittles the quality of their rivals who came so close to stopping them. To achieve a Premier League trophy without a recognised striker deserves huge credit. To do it ahead of a Liverpool side that went so close to a quadruple deserves even more. Despite all this success domestically, European failure is a disappointment that rears its head all too often for Guardiola and his side. For many players who have chased it for so long and come up short it is turning into a monkey they can’t shake off their back. Last season saw them reach the final for the first time and they were on their way to at least match that achievement until a crazy two minutes at the Santiago Bernabeu. Manchester City can look forward to the knock-out stages of Europe's premier club competition once again as Pep Guardiola and his players booked their place in the last-16 of the tournament last week courtesy of a draw with Copenhagen. There wasn’t any doubt that they’d reach this stage of the competition but now that they are there the same question arises as to whether they can finally get over the last hurdle.
City have been outstanding so far this season. They have made light work of some fearsome sides cutting through defences like a knife through butter. They have netted a remarkable 33 goals this year and we are only 13 games into the new campaign. Their sensational Norwegian striker Erling Haaland is responsible for nearly half of that tally contributing 15 goals to the cause since his arrival at the Etihad. The only blip came at Anfield against last season’s title challengers Liverpool as Mo Salah's second-half winner was enough to seal the three points for the Reds and keep City four points off top spot in the Premier League. Despite sitting behind Arsenal in the table after ten games, few doubt that they will once again be crowned kings of English football come May next year. They are the most feared team in the league and with good reason. They have dismantled defences with ease so far this year as Guardiola has seemingly constructed one of the most formidable forces the English top flight has ever seen. They have seemingly found the missing piece of the jigsaw in their new man leading the line and it begs the question whether he can end City’s European hoodoo.
According to these betting sites, the Cityzens are 15/8 to win the Champions League this season and it’s in part thanks to the exploits of Norwegian superstar Haaland who has taken to life in England like a duck to water. The City striker is already breaking records having moved his Premier League goal tally to 15 for the season from just ten matches including three back-to-back hat-tricks at home against Palace, Forest and rivals United. But that’s not all, he has made the fastest start of any striker in Premier League history. The 22-year-old now holds the record for goals scored in the month of August and is now the fastest player to reach not only three hat-tricks but 15 goals in a single season. If he were to continue scoring at his current rate he would end the season with just shy of 60 goals, an utterly ridiculous feat. It seems farcical in hindsight that many expected the £51million man to struggle upon arriving in England after a subpar performance in the Community Shield but he has gone on to reach unprecedented heights after establishing himself as one of world football’s most fearsome strikers. On the basis of his performances to date, there is truly no limit to what he can achieve in a City shirt. There aren’t enough superlatives to describe the goalscorer’s output but the frightening prospect is that even without the lethal striker City’s squad are operating at levels well above the best that Europe has to offer.
City’s defence has leaked just eleven goals this term in all competitions with eight clean sheets out of their 14 games. João Cancelo has been directly involved in eight goals since the start of last season, scoring twice while assisting a further six goals, the most of any defender in this period. In the middle of the park Kevin De Bruyne is having another stellar year providing 12 assists already while Bernardo Silva and Riyad Mahrez have also contributed six apiece. Haaland is of course enjoying a prolific start to his debut Premier League season but Phil Foden is also chipping in with a healthy tally of six goals this term. They are as close to the complete package as we have ever encountered in the Premier League and while the league is far from all wrapped up, it would come as a shock to many if they ended this year without having hoisted the trophy aloft. The question is then, can this translate to Europe’s elite competition? And the answer is that it should and it probably will.
For two seasons in a row City have been the favourites and didn’t manage to finish the job but a back-to-back semi-final and final should serve as an indication that they are within touching distance of their first European cup. Guardiola surely believes, deep down, that this current incarnation of City has to lift this thing eventually. Haaland has scored 26 goals in just 21 appearances in the European competition, scoring every 62 minutes on average, the best rate of any player who has scored 20+ goals in the tournament. This is their best shot yet, with a team that can justifiably claim to be the best in the world in a year where they are odds on favourites to do it. Bayern Munich look shaky in the Bundesliga, PSG aren’t as convincing in Ligue 1, and the chances of lightning striking twice for Real Madrid seem remote. A lot of football to be played between now and June 10 in Istanbul, this tournament has proven time and time again that nothing is for certain but few would be foolish enough to suggest that City aren’t in the driving seat.