Manchester City is often criticized for their spending and newly acquired wealth, and they are sometimes referred to as plastic team with no place in the halls of fame of European football.
Facing a possible ban from Champions League only underlines the narrative that Manchester City does not belong. However for the manager, Pep Guardiola, nothing else matters.
Guardiola arrived to Manchester City in 2016 after failing to win the Champions League at helm of Bayern München, despite leading the team to three German titles in as many years, in addition to two German cup wins, UEFA Supercup and FIFA Club World Cup wins. With his previous employer, Barcelona, Guardiola won everything possible including the Champions League, twice. But the last time was as far as 2011 and the coveted trophy has alluded the Spaniard since, despite winning that particular piece of silverware was the main reason both Bayern and then Manchester City hired Guardiola. For Manchester City, winning the league title was a nice bonus, but in order to shed the plastic reputation and make their name in Europe last, they needed the Champions League title. And they are still looking.
This season, City’s domestic title chase is done and dusted all but theoretically, so there is no need to pay attention to that competition. Champions League has seemed to take Pep Guardiola’s main focus for some time, as he has been mostly tinkering his squad in the Premier League games, trying out various formations and lineups. It is likely that all of it has been for preparation for the biggest challenge so far in Guardiola’s already illustrious managerial career – winning the Champions League at Manchester City.
Finally getting healthy, in the eleventh hour, City boasts a team that is equivalent of the Europe’s best. Guardiola has a plethora of options all over the pitch and he has some experience to tackle almost anything thrown at him. Facing Real Madrid in the first knockout round is a stern test, but something City is likely to be well prepared for. And while Real Madrid is always Real Madrid, they are not the same team as they were a couple of years back with Cristiano Ronaldo.
If Manchester City fails to oust Real Madrid, there’s not much to play for for the rest of the season. Pep Guardiola still has one more season remaining in his contract, but parting ways after another disappointment might be preferred by both parties. But there’s a lot of football to be played first!