Welcome to another Virgin Media Midweek Kick-off. Tonight, Manchester City face Paris Saint-Germain in the first leg of their UEFA Champions League quarter-final. After failing to make a real impact in recent European campaigns, we asked football writers Stuart Hood and Jack Prescott if this could be City’s year…
Yes, City can go all the way
“Forget squeaky bum time, City treat April and May as business time” – Stuart Hood, sports writer, Virgin Media
They’re doing a Chelsea
Name the last English winners of the UEFA Champions League. Too slow, the answer was Chelsea. The Blues won it in 2012, when they were absolutely nowhere in the Barclays Premier League (okay, they finished sixth) and the other semi-finalists were Bayern Munich, Barcelona and Real Madrid. This year, City are absolutely nowhere in the Barclays Premier League (well, they’re fighting for fourth) and the other semi-finalists could again be Bayern Munich, Barcelona and Real Madrid.
“Everything is possible,” said City goalkeeper Joe Hart when asked about his team’s chances of UEFA Champions League success. “We have seen over the years that teams have not necessarily set the world alight and won it. We are certainly not setting the world alight, but we are more than capable of winning it."
The penny has finally dropped
This year, the naivety that has blighted City’s past UEFA Champions League campaigns has been replaced by some good old-fashioned tactical maturity. Proof of this came during their impressive away victory against Sevilla – where they blitzed the home side with two goals in the first 11 minutes. And throughout the second leg of their last 16 tie with Dynamo Kyiv. Previous City teams might have played expansively in a bid to please the fans and increase their 3-1 lead from the first leg. This one played out a boring, but effective stalemate. “We didn’t want to force the game and defended without any problems,” said manager Manuel Pellegrini.
They’re very good
There’s a reason why City have won two of the last five Barclays Premier Leagues and taken down Bayern Munich in the group stages of three of the last five UEFA Champions League. It’s because their squad contains world-class talents like Spanish schemer David Silva, £55million Belgian sensation Kevin De Bruyne, four-time African Footballer of the Year Yaya Touré, defensive rock Vincent Kompany, England no 1 Joe Hart and the at-times-unstoppable Sergio Agüero. Add in Nasri, Sagna, Sterling and Fernandinho and you have a team who can beat anyone on their day.
They love this time of year
Forget squeaky bum time, City treat April and May as business time. In 2010/11, they won five of their last six Barclays Premier League games. In 2011/12, they won their last six league clashes. In 2012/13, they won three of their last four. In 2013/14, they won their last five. And in 2014/15, they triumphed in their last six. So what’s everyone worried about? If Pellegrini’s men continue this trend, nothing can deny them. They’ll finish in the Barclays Premier League top four and win the UEFA Champions League.
No, don’t be daft
“It’s impossible to imagine City having the knowledge or the nous to get the job done.” – Jack Prescott, sports writer, Virgin Media
They’re in unknown territory
City’s squad might have a lot of Barclays Premier League and international experience, but when it comes to Europe’s top club football event this is the furthest they’ve ever been. Contrast this lack of experience with Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Real Madrid’s star-packed UEFA Champions League squads and it’s impossible to imagine City having the knowledge or the nous to get the job done.
There are major gaps in the squad
It’s fair to say that City have had their fair share of injuries this season. But it’s also fair to say that a squad that costs nearly £500 million should be able to handle this. It isn’t simply that City haven’t coped without Vincent Kompany, they’ve actually imploded – conceding four goals against Tottenham and Liverpool in the Barclays Premier League and five against Chelsea in the FA Cup. So, imagine what could happen against sides as talented and free scoring as Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Real Madrid and PSG.
They’re not scoring enough
Given City’s defensive woes, the only way they are going to win the UEFA Champions League is by outscoring the opposition. In previous seasons this might have been a possibility, but this year? Don’t make me laugh. In terms of league goals, City have bagged ten less than Bayern Munich, 20 less than Benfica, 25 less than PSG, 31 less than Barcelona and 33 less than Real Madrid. And in terms of UEFA Champions League goals, City’s star man Sergio Aguero has notched 11 less than Cristiano Ronaldo, six less than Luis Suárez and Robert Lewandowski, five less than Thomas Müller and four less than Lionel Messi.
They’re not consistent enough
OK, OK, so City have had some good one-off results – like wins over Bayern and a draw with Real Madrid – in Europe over the past few seasons. But to win a UEFA Champions League you need to be able to produce world-class performances against high-quality sides on a weekly basis. Can Pellegrini’s men do this? Judging by the last few months the answer is no. “This season has been too much up and down,” says City star Kevin De Bruyne. “We’ve not been consistent and that’s the main issue.”
The other teams are better
At the time of writing, City are sixth favourites to take the UEFA Champions League behind Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Real Madrid, PSG and Atlético Madrid. And while some City diehards might views this ranking as unfair, the rest of the world compares Messi, Lewandowski, Ronaldo, Ibrahimović and Griezmann to City’s stars and thinks “rebuild and try again when Pep arrives next season”.
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