Manchester City’s craving of Champions League success is growing.
While this season has been a disappointment for the club in many aspects, their European adventure is still alive and kicking. With Leicester City rank outsiders as they face Sevilla and Arsenal having Arsenal’d themselves out of the competition thanks to a first leg humiliation against Bayern Munich, Pep Guardiola’s team are the only real hope left for the Premier League.
Facing Monaco after a bit of fortune to avoid the biggest clubs in the draw, Manchester City are favourites to progress to the quarter-finals. Monaco are having a very good season and scoring with more freedom than any other side in Europe’s top leagues, but Guardiola’s expertise and the upturn in City’s form makes progression an expectation.
Despite a shaky period domestically, Manchester City moved into the knockout stages with ease. While dropping points at the Etihad Stadium to Middlesbrough, Everton and Southampton they strode into second place in Group B. After a 3-3 draw with Celtic and the emphatic defeat at the Camp Nou, Guardiola’s side were in a tricky position. A sensational team display to dismantle Barcelona in the return match at the Etihad made qualification relatively comfortable, though.
When they needed the result most, the real City turned up. At the halfway point in the group stage any chance of winning the group had vanished, but that performance against Barcelona remains one of the best from any team this season.
As Chelsea and Liverpool took advantage of a quieter calendar, Manchester United slugged in the Europa League and Tottenham crumbled under the pressure of Europe’s premier competition, Manchester City flexed their muscles just enough to keep the rest of Europe aware of their threat. The Champions League eluded Guardiola during his glittering spell at Bayern, but his record in the competition is almost unrivalled.
Since breaking into the Champions League, it has been the trophy that Manchester City have wanted most of all. Having lifted all the domestic silverware at one time or another over since the 2008 takeover, Guardiola’s tenure will be defined by how his team does in the Champions League. Yet to reach the final and with only one semi-final appearance to their name, Manchester City must, at the very least, become a regular in the latter stages of the competition.
Even when their league form has been indifferent, City’s players find a way to produce their best levels on the greatest of occasions. A late equaliser by Boro may hurt in the short-term, but team displays like the one that decimated Barcelona will be remembered for years to come. Manchester City’s challenge now is to convert their big game performances into a run of knockout victories in the Champions League.
The disappointments in the league will easily be forgotten if Guardiola can take his side to the Holy Grail. Currently, they are the Premier League’s greatest hope of Champions League relevance this season and, whatever that says about the standard of the league, that deserves recognition. A team that thrives on the pressure of a high-profile occasion are made for cup football.