Manchester City In The Thick Of Champions League Action

20 Jan

This is a guest post.

It is said that Manchester City cannot be viewed as a European heavyweight until they start to make waves in the UEFA Champions League. As it stands, the Blues are now a regular sight in the world’s premier club tournament, having qualified regularly for it since 2011.

The learning curve is steep, and a combination of poor displays and difficult draws have hampered the club’s progress over the last few years. The 2013-14 season was the first time that City had managed to reach the knockout stages, prompting many to suggest that this is underachievement for a squad that boasts such quality.

This season, City managed to break free of the group stages again but for the second year in a row the mighty FC Barcelona lie in wait in the Round of 16. Coming hot on the heels of a group that included FC Bayern Munich, AS Roma and CSKA Moscow it gives some credence to the notion that the Citizens are getting a raw deal, draw-wise.

At least those lucky enough to have Man City season tickets cannot complain about the quality of the stars on show before them.

Once again, though, City very nearly didn’t make it. With four games played, they had only managed to chalk up two points. The English champions were minutes away from their fifth match ending in defeat to ten-man FC Bayern Munich. The obituaries for their Champions League campaign had already been written.

Sergio Aguero somehow managed to summon up the spirit of those amazing last few seconds of the 2012 Premier League season, causing the massed press hacks to reopen their laptops and rewrite their reports. Two late, late goals capitalised on defensive errors by the Germans to send the Etihad crowd into ecstasy.

Momentum is everything. City’s final opponents in Group E were AS Roma—themselves moments away from qualification at the end of Matchday 5 when they allowed CSKA Moscow to equalise.

That moment, followed by Aguero’s intervention, stacked the cards improbably in City’s favour. An extremely professional performance in the Stadio Olimpico saw off AS Roma’s challenge in Matchday 6: City won 2-0 and, from nowhere, they had completed the great escape.

There will not be a better time to face FC Barcelona. The Catalan giants are not quite in crisis but they are facing off-field difficulties at the moment, having recently lost their director of football Andoni Zubizarreta and his assistant and club legend Carles Puyol.

Boardroom issues also persist at the club—a presidential election has been called—and rumours that manager Luis Enrique and star player Lionel Messi do not get on will not abate, resulting in transfer gossip linking Manchester City with an earth-shattering transfer bid for the Argentine.

Whatever the truth in those rumours—and whatever the result when the two sides meet in February—the fact that City are being mentioned as potential suitors at all is the real barometer of exactly where the club stands in Europe at the moment. It stands right in the thick of things.

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