One swallow doesn’t make a summer. Manchester City aren’t favourites for Champions League glory, nor are they favourites for Premier League glory. And on the back of one 5-0 win away to Steaua Bucharest, that status shouldn’t change. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
City were magnificent against Bucharest, but Bucharest were terrible against City. They were so bad you could consider it offensive, but it was a watchable game because City were so good. It’s a case of swings and roundabouts.
Though if City aren’t favourites for European glory, there are definite signs that they can win the competition. They got to the semi final last year and were within a deflected Gareth Bale cross from reaching the final against Atletico Madrid.
They may not have played the most amazing football last season, but City did come that close. Play better this year and all the evidence would make it seem like City have a real chance.
So here are five reasons why Manchester City have a realistic shot of lifting the Champions League trophy in Cardiff in May…
It’s easy to point to Pep Guardiola and say that his arrival will change everything. There is clearly work to do and the City job is one of the hardest Guardiola has had.
But there’s a reason why it’s easy to make Guardiola a beacon for change. In his seven years as a manager, Guardiola has never been knocked out before the semi final in the Champions League. Anyone with that record has every chance of winning the competition this year.
Perhaps the most frightening thing about Manchester City’s squad is the ability to cut teams open on the break. With Sergio Aguero, Kevin de Bruyne, Leroy Sane and Raheem Sterling, City possess pace and incision, though more often than not this season, it seems as though City will be playing with the ball rather than without it.
In the Champions League, the ability to break quickly is essential, however, and in the later stages of the competition, the pace and precision available to Guardiola in attack will be critical.
Barcelona’s near-collapse at the end of last season proved that they are a team made up of humans, even if they are still the best team in Europe currently. Yet they’re a team that has been together for a long time, who have lost Dani Alves without bothering to replace him, a team who haven’t strengthened the starting eleven since Luis Suarez arrived, and a team who possess players currently distracted by off-the-pitch matters.
As for Real Madrid, no team has retained the Champions League, and their summer has left a lot to be desired, too – only Alvaro Morata has strengthened the squad, and the fact the club left it so late to ‘unveil’ him just shows they were looking to do bigger business than that.
Bayern Munich and Juventus could be the biggest threats to the Champions League crown this season, as both have strengthened, though there are also doubts about both. Can Bayern’s cope with the inevitable injuries to players like Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery, and can Juventus adequately replace Pogba?
None of this means City will definitely win the Champions League, but it does raise doubts about the bigger teams.
City have won everything there is to win domestically under the current owners. That doesn’t mean to say that domestic honours aren’t important to City, but it does mean to say that the priority is probably taking the next logical step.
Realistically, progress is all the owners want – they want to see good football and a few shiny trinkets will arrive naturally if that beautiful football arrives, too. But with the arrival of Guardiola and the experience and know-how in Europe, City’s priority this season could see them go far in Europe – and why not win it?
One of City’s problems in the past has been the lack of an identity in the team. When Pep Guardiola took to the airwaves in his pre-match interview before the Sunderland game last weekend, he asked his team to play with ‘soul’.
Over the past few seasons, it’s been hard to establish what Manchester City were for other than ‘winning’, something that happened less frequently than usual. Now, under Guardiola, City are creating an identity for themselves. That’s what will see them grow together as a team as everyone buys into the same thing. There needs to be a focal point for team growth, and that’s the team’s identity.