There is no evidence to suggest that Manchester City have even the remotest chance of upsetting Real Madrid in their upcoming Champions League R16 tie. Consider these facts:
- In the last 30 knockout ties in Europe between La Liga teams and English teams, the Spanish counterparts lead 24-6.
- Last season, when English teams (on a rare occasion) did well across European competitions, Manchester City still managed to lose before the semi-final stage. They missed an away penalty kick, let in three goals on home turf and were upset by an ordinary Tottenham Hotspur side. Totts, as I speak, are not even in top four of Premier League standings this season.
- While Champions League’s most successful team Real Madrid need no introduction, lifting the elite trophy four times this decade alone; Manchester City, in their history, are yet to knock out any decent team in this annual competition.
- The only ‘big’ name they have eliminated till date in knock out stages was Paris Saint Germain way back in 2016, a game I saw live. PSG, we all know, are the mother of all chokers in this competition.
- City went on face Real Madrid in their subsequent tie that season, and forget winning, they didn’t look like even scoring a goal over the 180 mins. Hence, City, are yet to knockout any quality opposition in this competition.
- The odds don’t favour them; their domestic league form is ordinary (with six losses in 27 games) by their Centurion standards; Real Madrid are leading La Liga standings and if that’s not all, Pep Guardiola as Bayern Munich manager got knocked out of CL over three consecutive years .. by.. by.. Spanish opposition!
- In his first two years as Manchester City manager, in the Champions League, Guardiola’s City got knocked out by Monaco (despite winning home leg 5-3) and by a rising Liverpool, under Klopp, with a 5-1 aggregate score.
There is nothing, simply nothing, to suggest that Manchester City are going to be alive in Champions league football beyond March this calendar year..for the next two and half years!
Big Match mentality
It is clear from the data points above, that Manchester City as a club lack the big game winning mentality much needed for Champions League fixtures. And that separates big teams in big events… Earlier this decade, Real Madrid were often getting bossed by Barcelona and Atletico Madrid in La Liga, the same years they romped to Champions League trophies! The CL is never won by the best club team of the season.. it’s won by the team who know how to win big match knockout ties.
The Madrid teams, like Juventus, like Barcelona, like Bayern Munich… have that big game winning mentality…they will do well in Champions League knockout ties, more often than not. A Monaco or a Totts are unlikely to knock them out ever. Meanwhile, a PSG and a City need one big season and series of big scalps to garner that mentality.
Can City make this season, that ‘one big season’?
Stranger things have happened in football… but with the two year Champions League ban firmly in place, the sky blues have one big point to prove everyone wrong. And get back, at who they think is their adversary, UEFA.
History has many instances of clubs or national teams, in adverse circumstances, going on to win big titles. The list starts with the Italian national team in the 2006 World Cup…a no hopers team who arrived in Germany, on the back of a match fixing scandal back home.. that tainted their entire Serie A league and banned some of their biggest teams. They only had pride left to play for. Italy won World Cup 2006.
UEFA to Man City’s rescue
While Manchester and English media will keep floating articles of Etihad bosses organizing a battery of expensive lawyers and taking on UEFA in the boxing ring, fighting tooth and nail; we all know the ban is there and unlikely to be overturned. City bosses knew this was coming. The players knew it all along, too. For close to a year, Guardiola had that constant ‘no more big money signing’ placard planted in front of his face… and the performance of the players this season, says a lot.
The spark is missing, the killer instinct too, the goal scoring conversion rate is abysmal, no one knows which four defenders will take the field at the Bernabeau, and, but for the low quality EPL standards this season, City would not even be in top four in La Liga, Serie A or Bundesliga with these performances. Imagine a Chelsea, Arsenal, Manchester United, Everton, Leicester City and Totts of five years ago… City would not even be in top six of EPL this season, but for the regression of their rivals. In a way, the UEFA ban may have helped them.. it may have just given City that anger, that fire in the belly, missing so far this season.
Go for blood
The Madrid test is their only chance at redemption. Their do or die game. Treat it as their last possible game in Europe with this golden generation of players – lose and the future of Pep, Aguero, De Bruyne, Sterling, Laporte and a lot more players will come under the scanner. Win this tie and get that big match mentality in the squad, rise up the CL winning odds, give the roar back to their fans and steal some thunder from the FFP saga. The trade off range is huge – the downside is very deep, and the highs can be a historical one.
If City manage to eliminate Madrid, I fancy them big time to lift the Champions League Trophy. That will be the biggest slap they can give to UEFA and at the same time take away gloss from Liverpool’s ‘first time in three decades’ domestic title winning, expected boisterous, parade.
City need to go for blood and they don’t have a choice. The only problem… Madrid know how to win such ties. City don’t. Yet.