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September 24, 2023

It’s Now Or Never For Pep Guardiola And Manchester City In The UEFA Champions League

Written By Onyeka Daniel

They haven’t really been lucky. Perhaps that could be the only missing ingredient for Manchester City to win the UEFA Champions League title as they’ve met every other prerequisite to lift the elite European club trophy. Since taken over by the Abu Dhabi United group in 2008, the Cityzens have seen continuous investment in the club in terms of signing players and the club went as far as bringing in Pep Guardiola to help them win the UCL title, something he has been unable to do so far.

Between 2008 and 2019, Manchester City had made 59 major signings since Sheikh Mansour took over the club with prominent names likes Sergio Aguero, Kevin De Bruyne, David Silva, Bernardo Silva, Yaya Toure, Raheem Sterling and Carlos Tevez to mention but a few. However, they’ve been unable to translate the signings into results in the European scene. Obviously, they’ve won the EPL title and other available trophy in England, but against their peers from other top European Leagues, they’ve always fallen short, which has led to the sacking of several coaches until Guardiola was brought in.


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Prior to his appointment as coach, the Spanish international had won two Champions League titles, three La Liga championships, two Copas del Rey, three Spanish Super Cups, two European Super Cups and two World Club Cups with Barcelona. In 2008/09 the team claimed an unprecedented treble of La Liga, the Champions League and the Copa del Rey. But he was less successful in his second job with Bayern Munich, failing to win the UCL title. Guardiola spent three seasons in Munich between 2013 and 2016, winning the Bundesliga every year and the DFB Cup in 2014 and 2016 – but was eliminated at the semi-final stage of the Champions League by Real Madrid (2014), Barcelona (2015) and Atletico Madrid (2016).

It has been the same story for Manchester City in the competition, before and still with Guardiola. While his time at City can be tagged as successful so far, having won four Premier League titles, four EFL Cups, and the FA Cup, including a domestic treble in the 2018–19 season, he has failed to deliver where it mattered the most and perhaps the trophy that he was hired to win and heavily backed by the owners in the transfer market to help them win. He led the club to their maiden UEFA Champions League Final in 2021, where they lost to Chelsea, which is the closest that they’ve been to clinch the elusive trophy.

He is known for modernizing football from a tactical perspective, ushering in new playing styles (tika-taka) that revolutionised the game and have been mimicked by other coaches around the world. The coach himself did acknowledge the fact that he was brought in to win the UCL trophy in his pre-match conference before their game against Leipzig and he did admit it; “Yes, that doesn’t mean I agree with that, but absolutely I will be judged for that competition,” Guardiola said at a press conference ahead of the game, when asked if he had to win the competition to confirm his legacy at Man City. “Since day one when I arrived here they asked me ‘are you here to win the Champions League?’. I accept it. It’s not going to change.”

Over the course of the six seasons prior to this one, Guardiola’s Man City side have been knocked out of the Last 16 once, the quarter-finals three times, one semi-final knock-out in addition to the defeat to Chelsea in the final of the competition in 2021, and to the likely torment of the club’s fans and Guardiola himself in equal measure, the past six years of dominance in English football has been far from matched in Europe as the club continues its pursuit of a first Champions League trophy. Perhaps this season could finally change that.

For all of his success, not winning the UCL title before calling it quits with City would be termed a failure and he knows it, which is why winning it this year makes the most sense. Unlike previous years, he now has a proven goal scorer in Erling Haaland and the Norwegian striker did make a statement in that game against Leipzig, scoring five goals in a single match. This performance will surely give upcoming opponents something to worry about when they face City.

Another huge plus for them is their squad depth which is second to none among top European clubs. This has enabled the coach to tweak and change formation at will, no matter the level of the opponent and how many injuries that they’re dealing with, which is not usually much. After going past RB Leipzig in the previous round of the UCL this season, they were paired against another German side, Bayern Munich, a tie that they were able to scale through with minimal fuss and has given them the opportunity to set up a rematch of last season’s semifinal vs Real Madrid.

Another reason for them to win it this year is the fact that from 2024, the UCL would be undergoing radical changes to it format. The new Champions League format was approved last month and will run from 2024 to 2027. It will feature 36 teams instead of the current 32, with each club playing eight matches against different opponents.

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The top eight teams will advance directly to the round of 16, and the ninth to 24th teams will play an additional round-robin playoff to determine the other eight finalists. There are reports that this change is being necessitated by the threat from the European Super League debacle, but notwithstanding, it will give the tournament a whole new flavour and unpredictability. Furthermore, some teams will also be looking to get back into reckoning in the UCL as they’ve struggled in the past few seasons, with teams like Chelsea, PSG Manchester United, Barcelona, AC Milan and Juventus having fallen on hard times but ready to bounce back and start challenging for trophies again on the biggest stage.

While other teams will be looking to gatecrash into the European elites club with teams like Newcastle United who now have rich owners that are ready to spend, just like a certain owner did with City in 2008. Perhaps, avoiding the distraction of trying to wrestle the EPL title from Arsenal this season could also help them focus on the UCL with less than 10 games to go in the English Premier League and with a four point gap currently separating them from the Gunners. All in all, it looks like the perfect time for City to finally get their hands on the elusive trophy, but they will need to ride their luck. It has been shown in previous editions that form and having the best players do not usually count in the UCL, you need a little bit of luck too.

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