With the restart of the Champions League right around the corner, and the reigning champions Liverpool already out of the competition, is this the year that Pep Guardiola and his Manchester City team finally get their hands on the trophy?
At the moment, they are in the driver’s seat, as they are tied for favorites to take the trophy home along with Bayern Munich, but what do they need to do to win? And where do they need to improve to prevent another disappointing exit from the tournament?
With City’s Champions League ban lifted, and the Premier League season wrapped up, they can now focus on the one tournament they always seem to fail at, it’s all about winning the Champions League. However, there are some aspects of their game that they need to improve upon.
Defensively, Manchester City haven’t been at their best this season, and considering who they could have to face, this needs to change ASAP. Most importantly, Guardiola will need to find a suitable defensive partner for Aymeric Laporte, with both Nicolas Otamendi and John Stones falling short of the task.
In the midfield, Guardiola has a choice to make, go with the club stalwart, or put his faith in a youngster. Fernandinho has been a brick wall for City, but with the acquisition of Rodri, Pep may think twice about using Fernandinho in his favored position. There is also the possibility that Fernandinho may have to take on the role at centre back.
Up front, City fans are either a bit nervous or just fine. Sergio Aguero was ruled out of the Premier League season due to injury, and therefore he’s out of the Champions League as well. Gabriel Jesus is the clear replacement, but is he able to fill the boots of a club legend?
He has performed well for Guardiola, although he has gone through some dry spells. He hasn’t played a lot of football, no surprise when you’re competing with someone like Aguero, but if he steps up when needed, he can easily get the goals City need to win.
With regards to their games, they first need to see out a second leg game against Zinedine Zidane’s Real Madrid. City are 2-1, with two away goals, but Real Madrid are Real Madrid,you can never say they are down and out until the final whistle blows.
Considering they have been crowned La Liga champions, and are obviously wanting to lift the Champions League trophy again, this first game back could prove to be tricky for City, Real Madrid are down on goals, but there is nothing stopping them from winning.
At the moment, many think City’s biggest competition for the trophy comes from Bayern Munich, a team in incredible form, with a striker who just can’t stop scoring goal after goal.
Bayern Munich have a 3-0 lead over Chelsea, and will be playing their second leg at home, and even though Chelsea have shown just how good they can be, turning over a 3-0 deficit at the Allianz Arena is going to be near to impossible.
The one thing that can prove to be either fatal, or a godsend, is the nature of the rest of the tournament. The quarter and semi finals will now be played as single leg ties, you win, you go through, you lose, you’re out.
This change, and the changes to the schedule now mean all games are going to be played on 7 different days across August, a very busy schedule to say the least. There have also been other changes implemented.
You will now be allowed 23 players on the field and bench, something only reserved for finals, and like the leagues had for the remainder of their seasons, you will be allowed 5 substitutes a game.
With regards to City’s possible opponents after they beat Madrid, they will be up against either Lyon, or Juventus. Two teams that City have the ability to beat, but two teams that can easily send the English team packing.
Lyon are underdogs, but their performances over the past few seasons have shown them to be a real force, and considering Ajax were the underdogs last season, that’s enough proof to show that they shouldn’t be underestimated in any way.
Juve are without doubt the scariest possibility for City. With Ronaldo still playing like he’s in his prime, and Dybala proving to be world-class over and over again, this could easily be the sticking point for City, and the game that sends them home.
Lyon are a goal up against Juventus, but that is no guarantee of anything, and they are going to have to play out of their skin if they have any hope of stopping the Old Lady from reaching another quarter-final.
Like with every season, City have a serious shot of going all the way and lifting the trophy, but they always seem to stumble. They have the ability to win, but getting there has clearly been a struggle.
With a fairly simple Round of 16 game on the horizon, the real challenge will begin after that, and only time will tell if this City team has the strength to finally reach the final and lay their hands on the trophy they have longed for.