The 20th edition of the World Club Cup will be the first time that Manchester City have competed for the right to be official champions of the world. Saudi Arabia – the centre of much of football’s topical debate – will be the stage for them to take on the best team from each continent just before Christmas, and Pep Guardiola’s men will fancy their chances of winning the silverware.
But it won’t be plain sailing. City might have the most talented squad, but their competitors also have a few gems that might cause the Citizens problems, including a former Champions League foe.
Here’s a look at five players who could throw a spanner in City’s works.
The draw and betting odds
It would be foolish to claim that City are anything other than heavy favourites for this tournament. Their rivals all have squads with a fraction of the value of the Blues and it’ll be a huge shock if any of them give them a real challenge for the trophy.
The short odds of City emerging victorious make it pointless placing a bet on them, but it might be worth looking at potential Golden Boot winners. Erling Haaland, with his incredible scoring record, is the obvious frontrunner, but there could be some value bets on the likes of Phil Foden and Bernardo Silva as Pep Guardiola looks to wrap his star striker up in cotton wool.
City fans travelling to Saudi Arabia will have to stake their money before they leave home, though: betting in the Arab kingdom, including in lottery and online casinos, is strictly forbidden.
The action will kick off for City when they take on either Club Leon or Urawa Red Diamonds on December 20th.
As one of Real Madrid’s greatest all-time goalscorers, Karim Benzema is still enough to strike fear into City, even as he approaches his 36th birthday.
The French forward won five Champions Leagues with the Spanish giants and many thought he would stay in Europe once his contract expired. In the end, the riches of Saudi Arabia were enough to convince him to join Al-Ittihad, City’s potential World Club Cup finalists.
Benzema’s move has got off to a mixed start. First, there was signs of a spat with boss Nuno Espirito Santo after a rumour emerged that the Portuguese coach didn’t believe he fit into his system. Benzema, though, has shown his obvious class on several occasions so far this season and looks set to become a key player as his side aim to repeat last season’s league title success.
City will be keeping a watchful eye on the Frenchman in their preparations for the tournament.
Operating behind Benzema in the Al-Ittihad side is N’Golo Kante, the lynchpin of the famous Leicester City Premier League win in 2015.
Kante plays in the famous ‘Makelele’ role and his task will be stopping City’s world-class attacking midfielders from enjoying too much of the play. It’ll be a tall order but one thing the wily Frenchman has is tonnes of experience playing against the likes of Bernardo Silva and Phil Foden. If anyone can stop them in their tracks, he can.
Whether Kante’s teammates can support him in this task is a different matter, but he could be the difference between a City trophy win and an unlikely Al-Ittihad triumph.
Ali Maâloul has an unusual knack for scoring goals for a defender. The left-back was his team’s top scorer back in 2016 with an incredible 14 goals in 20 league matches and he’s kept up an impressive scoring and assist record for current club Al-Alhy ever since.
Al-Ahly, from Egypt, will be City’s opponents should they beat Al-Ittihad in the semis, and Maâloul’s attacking threat is something that Guardiola will need to keep quiet. His class is also proven on the international stage, in particular at the 2018 and 2022 FIFA World Cups where he showed his class for Tunisia in a high-profile game against England and a famous 1-0 win over France
Fidel Ambriz is the rising talent from Mexico's U-23 squad and Club León, has captured the attention of prominent European clubs, including Sevilla in LaLiga and PSV in the Netherlands. His recent standout performances for the Mexican U-23 team have made him a sought-after prospect.
León will be City’s semi-final opponents should they get past Urawa Red Diamonds and Ambriz's pivotal role in León's victory in the Concacaf Champions League makes him a key player to watch.
Like Kante, he specializes in breaking up play with his tough tackling and his vision of the game is phenomenal for a 20-year-old. City fans may well see him in a European opponent's team before long, if not their own.
One of City’s opponents in the final could come from Latin America where the likes of Boca Juniors and Palmeiras are set to fight it out for the Copa Libertadores. The winner of that tournament goes straight into the Club Cup semi-final against either Al-Ittihad or Al-Ahly.
Perhaps the hottest young talent still left in the the Libertadores is Luca Langoni. The young winger has captured the spotlight with his sensational rise in the Argentine Liga Profesional.
Langoni's breakthrough came amidst a title challenge, where he was thrust into the first team due to a string of injuries. What followed was nothing short of remarkable. He notched up six crucial goals that secured 11 vital points, ultimately clinching the 29th league title for Boca Juniors.
Transfermarkt's Area Manager Argentina, Scott Christensen, noted Langoni's exceptional contributions, saying, "Langoni wasn't even a starter for Boca's junior team, and all of a sudden had to start for the first team in the middle of a title challenge. There he surprised everyone."
Langoni's rapid ascent sees him now ranked among the top 20 most valuable players in the league. His explosive pace, dribbling ability, and clinical finishing make him a potent force on the right wing, and his potential seems boundless.
If Boca make it through to the final, the Langoni is the talent the world’s scouts will have their eyes on, including City’s.