Manchester City have swept all before them at domestic level in recent seasons, with boss Pep Guardiola steering the Citizens to two Premier League titles in 2018 and 2019. On top of that, Guardiola has also bagged an FA Cup in 2019 and three EFL Cups back-to-back in the last three seasons.
Despite this domestic dominance, there remains a sense of unfinished business around the Etihad Stadium. City have failed to fully make their mark in Europe, displaying an inability to close out big games on the Champions League stage. In fact, City have lost at the quarter final stage for three successive seasons, despite many pundits and bookmakers alike considering them as major contenders for the trophy.
This looks like being the case again in 2020/21, with FOX Bet, one of the legal sports betting operators in the US, pricing City as short as +350 to win this season’s Champions League. That price makes them second favourites, behind last year’s eventual winners Bayern Munich (+250). There are several indicators which suggest that Guardiola’s men could go one better this time around, helping the club to break new ground and cement themselves as major players on the continental stage.
A very straightforward group stage
It’s safe to say that City were at their clinical best in the group stages. Five victories and five clean sheets eased them comfortably into the last 16. An easier passage into the knock-out stages could provide Guardiola’s men with greater mental and physical fortitude to tough it out in the latter stages. Some might say that not being challenged in the group stage means City will be in for a shock in the knock-out stage, but the easier their path through the competition the better.
City’s kind draw in the last 16
City are scheduled to play German Bundesliga outfit Borussia Monchengladbach in the second round of the Champions League. It’s certainly one of the easier opponents City could have hoped for at this stage of the competition. Monchengladbach find themselves just seventh in the Bundesliga so far this term, four points off the Champions League qualification places. They’ve conceded 24 goals in the league, which is more than any other team in the top seven of the Bundesliga.
Guardiola’s men haven’t tasted defeat since November
There is a genuine sense that City have shrugged off the disappointment of Liverpool overtaking them to win last season’s Premier League. There is a steely resolve within the City camp at present, underlined by their 14-game unbeaten run in all competitions which stretches back to mid-November. With a game in-hand on Liverpool in the league, Guardiola’s men could leap-frog them in the EPL table in the coming weeks, which may give them a mental boost in Europe.
No Premier League team has kept more clean sheets than City this term
In past seasons, we have often waxed lyrical about the attacking prowess of Manchester City’s forward line. However, this year, Guardiola appears to have tightened things up at the other end. City have kept eight clean sheets domestically so far this term, more than any other EPL team. With only 13 goals conceded in 16 games, City are developing something of a steely resolve that is often required to succeed in the final stages of the Champions League. Their recent narrow 1-0 home win over struggling Brighton is testament to the fact that they are focusing on being harder to beat than blowing teams away in the final third.
Kevin de Bruyne is in a rich vein of creative form
Of course, the final third remains a vital component of any Champions League-winning side. City are fortunate to have the services of Belgian playmaker Kevin de Bruyne. The midfield dynamo appears to have finally shaken off his injury issues and looks back to his absolute best in 2020/21. He has already registered 14 assists in all competitions, which is far and away the top figure in the entire Premier League right now. It’s helping City fans get over the disappointment of failing to sign Lionel Messi, who opted to stay at Barcelona in the autumn.
With the domestic spotlight shining brighter on Liverpool than City right now, Guardiola’s men will be hoping to go quietly under the radar and achieve the final trophy that’s so far eluded Guardiola, creating a legacy that no City fan will ever forget.