On Guardiola’s watch, Manchester City have dominated English football. Football pundits have long regarded City as Europe’s best team. However, they have not been able to win the Champions League. City’s performance on his watch has earned Guardiola a great reputation. However, Guardiola’s legacy will remain incomplete until City make the Champions League trophy their own.
City’s Short and Painful CL History
City have not had a long Champions League history; however, they have had more than their fair share of painful memories in the competition. It’s a little-known fact that City first appeared in the premier European club competition back in the 1968-69 season. That was the season in which they won the Division 1 rather unexpectedly. Subsequently, in a forgettable European Cup debut, City lost in round one to the Turkish club Fenerbahce.
Loss to Chelsea in 2021 Final
Arguably City’s most painful CL memory came in the final in 2021. En route to the final, City prevailed over such vaunted rivals as Borussia Dortmund and PSG. Set to face Premier League rivals Chelsea in the final, City were considered favourites to win. The win would cement Guardiola’s place among the greatest managers in football history.
However, nobody foresaw a tactical error by Pep. He decided against starting a defensive midfielder. Chelsea took full advantage and grabbed the lead minutes before the interval. That remained the only goal of the match.
Overwhelmed by Real Madrid Aura in 2022 Semi Final
In 2022, City got to the semi-finals. In the lead for most of that tie against Real Madrid, City fell prey to Los Blancos’s aura. The Spanish giants went ahead towards the end of the second leg to shatter City’s dream. It was déjà vu for the Etihad outfit. Earlier, in 2015-16, they had lost the semi-finals over two legs to Real Madrid on Manuel Pellegrini’s watch
City’s Resurgence under Guardiola
Only after Pep’s arrival have City been considered as prospective European champions. Under Roberto Mancini, they qualified twice for the CL, only to be thrashed by Barca in the RO16 on both occasions. They got to the CL semi-finals for the first ever time in 2015-16. An own goal by Fernando against Real Madrid handed the game to the La Liga giants.
Guardiola took charge in the 2016-17 season. City got past the group stage only to lose to Monaco in the RO16. Thereafter, season after season, numerous factors worked to thwart City’s bid to become European champions. In 2017-18, they lost to Liverpool before a raucous home crowd at Anfield. In the next season, VAR denied a late goal by Raheem Sterling against Spurs that could have changed their fortunes.
In the lock-down season of 2019-20, they suffered an unexpected loss to Lyon in the quarter-final round. It was a one-legged tie and Guardiola appeared to overthink his tactics against a perceptibly weaker rival side. Consequently, City were less fluid in possession, handing Lyon a 3-1 victory.
Real Madrid are no Pushovers
Much has been said and written about Real Madrid’s aura and how it helps them win against stronger rivals. But such observations miss the reality by a mile. Madrid are ruthless and unforgiving on the field. They rely on talent — cold and hard — enhanced by a brilliant midfield and complemented by coherence and speed in attack.
Nowhere was this more evident than in Los Blancos’s rout of Liverpool in the quarters, away at Anfield. Karim Benzema and Vinícius Júnior cut the Liverpool defence apart. Vinícius had two goals and one assist to his name as he went past Trent Alexander-Arnold at will. Likewise, Benzema scored two and assisted one. While Benzema isn’t at peak fitness or form, rival sides would do well not to underestimate his footballing intelligence. He seems to be always aware of the space around him and does whatever he likes with the ball.
Await the History Defining Moment for City and Pep
I believe that this season could be Guardiola’s crowning glory. And the main reason I think so is the presence of Haaland in the City squad. Haaland has scored 48 goals across competition this season. That stat works out to one for every three shots at goal. Off the ball, Haaland doesn’t do a lot. However, on the ball, he is arguably the most effective of all. To add to that, a less than impressive Real Madrid are 11 points adrift of table toppers Barca in the La Liga. Another factor in City’s favour is that they will play the second leg at the Etihad. Bookmakers’ odds favour City to beat Real Madrid to reach their second-ever CL final.
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