COULD THIS BE THE YEAR THAT MAN CITY SUCCEED IN EUROPE?
For all of their domestic success, it would be fair to say that Manchester City have failed in Europe since first qualifying for the Champions League back in 2011. In their first two efforts, City crashed out in the group stages of the competition while they have been totally outplayed by Barcelona at the last-16 stage in each of the last two years.
This season, however, City have been picking up the kind of results to suggest that they could be successful in Europe’s elite club competition. Despite falling at home to Juventus in the curtain raiser, Manuel Pellegrini’s men have picked up maximum points against both Borussia Monchengladbach and Sevilla.
In both victories, City scored in injury-time to snatch the win – a trait that would suggest they can go far in this year’s competition. City’s squad is immense and they have certainly bolstered in both attack and defence. Nicolas Otamendi has had his critics but remains a top talent, while Raheem Sterling’s experience will prove useful throughout the campaign.
But perhaps their greatest summer purchase was Wolfsburg’s Kevin de Bruyne. The ex-Chelsea star failed to cut it at Stamford Bridge but has been an instant hit at City, scoring three and assisting a further three in his six Premier League games for the club. In fact, it was De Bruyne who scored City’s winner against Sevilla – a goal that has kept them in control of their own Champions League destiny.
While one could argue that City have been unlucky to face Barcelona in successive years, they simply haven’t shown enough to suggest that they can adapt to European football. City lost at home and away to the Spanish giants on both occasions – a record that suggests the English side simply haven’t progressed to the level where they can compete with Europe’s top clubs.
Pellegrini is a shrewd tactician and his pragmatic approach in the Manchester derby has confirmed that City can set up defensively and still pick up a positive result. While the title favourites weren’t able to sneak a victory, City may look back on this point at the end of the season as one of the defining moments in the season.
It doesn’t take a genius to figure out Manchester City’s primary problem in Europe: they have been too aggressive. At times, City have adopted a gung-ho approach that has hurt their chances of progression. Even against Juventus in this season’s competition, City pushed and were caught out as Alvaro Morata curled home the winner.
However, Pellegrini now has the tools to set up defensively. By selecting both Fernandinho and Fernando as the holding midfielders, he allows Yaya Toure the freedom to roam. Also, De Bruyne and Sterling don’t need to worry too much about tracking back as the two holding midfielders are both incredibly reliable – neither will drift out of position.
Only time will tell but the early signs are positive for Pellegrini’s side this season. City are continuing to find ways to win matches, even when they haven’t played at their sparkling best. They still have a decent chance of qualifying at the top of Group D and, in doing so, they are likely to avoid Bayern Munich, Real Madrid and Barcelona in the next round of the competition.
This could be the year that City really put their stamp on European football. With a good draw, Pellegrini’s men could reach the quarter-finals for the first time in their history. If the Chilean continues to adopt his pragmatic approach in the key matches, they could even challenge for a place in the semi-finals. And from there, who knows…