After less than a fifth of the domestic season, Manchester City have already been installed as odds-on favourites to win the Premier League. The book makers are putting them at around 4/6, despite their being level on points with their Manchester rivals at the time of this writing (only one goal separates the two teams).
A huge 1/50 to finish in the top four, Manchester City are also favourites for the domestic cups, at 5/1 for the FA Cup and 10/3 for the EFL Cup. The Blues are, it would seem, “The Untouchables” when it comes to English football.
So, given that the Premier League is widely acknowledged as the toughest league in the world, you would expect that form to transfer to the European competitions. Yet, for some reason it doesn’t. City are a poor fifth favourites for the Champions league, behind Real Madrid, Paris Saint-Germain, Barcelona and Bayern Munich.
You can’t even say that this is because City faces a difficult qualifying group, because they have a relatively easy ride and are long odds-on to win Group F, at 2/11.
So just what is it that stops English clubs from transferring their domestic dominance to the European stage? History tells us that City are not alone in their struggle. In the 25 years of the Champions League, since its inception in 1992/93, football’s most prestigious trophy has only crossed the channel four times: to Manchester United in 1999, to Liverpool (following that amazing night in Istanbul) in 2005, back to Manchester United in 2008 and finally to Chelsea in 2012. In fact, the trophy has only left Spain four times in the last eleven seasons.
Some would say that the big continental teams have the best players, and the recent Ballon d’Or nominations would seem to back this up. The current holder, Christiano Ronaldo, is joined by no less than six other Real Madrid players in the 30-strong shortlist, with LaLiga claiming 11 of the 30 places. But the Premier League comes in at a close second, with seven nominees, so it’s hardly a walkover for the Spanish.
Barcelona may have Messi and Suarez, and Real Madrid may have Ronaldo and Bale, but then City do have Aguero amongst their star-studded line up. You can’t even claim that it’s down to money — not after City have spent £150m in 2015/16, £170m in 2016/17 and £220m so far in the current season. Big money signings have been flooding into the Emirates, including Emerson (£35m), Silva (£43m) and Mendy (£52m).
Poor old Pep Guardiola has been spending so much money to keep up that LaLiga President, Javier Tubas, has accused City of bending the rules to suit themselves, claiming they are ‘peeing in the swimming pool’ of the international transfer market.
At City, we have the players, we have a high-quality domestic game to challenge our teams and develop their strengths and tactics, and we have some of the finest managers in world football, including Pep himself. So, what is the issue? Why can’t English clubs succeed in Europe? Is it the schedule, with too many matches in the English season? Is it the lack of sunshine, with warmer climes bringing out a certain Spanish flair that drizzly Manchester can never compete with? Whatever the reason, we need to figure it out fast, otherwise there’s just no point in being 1/50 for a top four finish, and a place in a Champions League, if we have no hope of winning it.