So don’t get too excited about the Sky Blues’ 5-0 demolition job on Sporting Lisbon on Tuesday night. Pep Guardiola’s team has looked very good against lesser opposition before and then tanked when it mattered.
It matters a hell of a lot to Pep, a proud Catalan, that he still gets one incredible stat thrown at him. That despite a decade managing with Bayern Munich and Manchester City, enjoying domestic dominance at every turn, the European Cup has eluded him in that time. He has never won the great trophy without Lionel Messi at his side.
Champions League losses’, over the last few seasons, to the likes of Lyon still sting, and will sting until Manchester City get the job done. The manager is not blameless. In last season’s Final in Oporto against Chelsea, Pep named an attacking line-up in which neither Fernandinho and Rodri featured.
The selection calls allowed Chelsea to grab hold of midfield during the match, and to grab hold of the trophy thanks to Kai Havertz’s goal.
Sporting Lisbon are probably the weakest side to qualify for in the Round of 16. Certainly, in the next round, Manchester City would have it much harder against the winners of the PSG-Real Madrid and Inter Milan-Liverpool ties.
They would also have it harder against any of Chelsea, Juventus and Bayern Munich should they, as expected, progress to the quarter-finals. Nor would City fancy a match against the survivors of Atletico Madrid and Manchester United.
The Spaniards would bring huge defensive organisation to such a game, while United would bring a passion that City could do without facing just now. City are a better team than United over a 38-game Premier League season, of that there’s no question. Yet United might just fancy a two-game tie against their neighbours, with all the pressure on Pep.