Will Manchester City finally clinch their first Champions League trophy? Time will tell
The European Uefa Champions League has returned to offer up more enthralling storylines for global football fans.
The Uefa Champions League is back. Once more, millions of eyes will be on whether English champions Manchester City, now boasting the services of sharpshooting Norwegian striker Erling Haaland, will be able to clinch European football’s most elite club competition.
Last season City, who have been peerless in England in recent years (winning four of the past five domestic league titles) were not able to transfer that form to continental competition.
During the 2021/2022 campaign, the Citizens and their superstar manager, Pep Guardiola, once again fell marginally short in their quest for European glory. Then, they were vanquished by eventual winners and record Champions League champions Real Madrid in the semifinals.
A change in fortune?
When United Arab Emirates politician and businessman Sheikh Mansour seized the reins of ownership at the club back in the European summer of 2008 and proceeded to spend hundreds of millions of pounds in transfer fees over the subsequent seasons, he had one thing on his mind — European glory.
When Mansour lured the Spanish tactician and obsessive perfectionist Guardiola to Manchester in 2016, he still had the same thing in mind.
After all, in his overflowing trophy cabinet, Guardiola possesses two Champions League titles, which he won with his breathtaking Barcelona side in 2009 and 2011.
However, at City — much like during his three-year stint at Bayern Munich — the Spaniard has failed to recreate the European magic he managed at Barcelona.
In the 2018 and 2019 Champions League editions, the Premier League leaders were ousted in the quarterfinals — falling to domestic rivals Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur, respectively.
French side Lyon also knocked them out of the quarterfinals, in 2020. Then, in 2021, the Manchester club managed to reach their first final. They lost 1-0 to fellow English club Chelsea, despite heading into the tie as favourites.
In the 2022/2023 instalment of the perennially riveting club contest, City boast one of the most prolific goal scorers in world football — Norwegian forward Haaland.
With the European summer signing of the 22-year-old from Group G rivals Dortmund, Guardiola’s men will hope they have found the player to take them to the next level — the final jewel in the European crown.
Haaland made a strong start, scoring City’s opening goal of the Champions League campaign against the Spanish side Sevilla on Tuesday.
Since bursting o to the scene with some charged-up Champions League performances for Austria’s Red Bull Salzburg, Haaland has been a revelation.
The star is already considered to be one of world football’s most prolific strikers, having scored more than 20 Champions League goals in just 20 appearances to date.
However, according to Guardiola, the whole City team will have to click if they are to finally land that elusive European title.
“All the players the club decided to sign this season came in to try to make us better. Otherwise, it would not make sense,” Guardiola told reporters ahead of his side’s game against Sevilla.
“Is that going to help us win the title? I don’t know. I always have belief. But if we rely only on Erling’s shoulders, we are not going to win the Champions League. What we have to do is play well, create chances to help him score goals and hopefully we can do it.
One player who will not be scoring any Champions League goals for any side this season is Cristiano Ronaldo. The Portuguese legend, who made his debut in the elite competition in the 2002/2003 season, misses out this time — along with his club Manchester United.
Prior to this season, Ronaldo had not missed a single Champions League campaign since his introduction, winning five European titles overall. He also holds the record for the most goals in the history of the competition, with 140 strikes in total.
His long-time rival Lionel Messi, who holds the record for the most Champions League group stage goals, will look to make some headway in catching up to Ronaldo, whom he currently trails by just over 10 goals in the list of the competition’s all-time top scorers.
Meanwhile, Messi’s former club Barcelona is back in Europe’s top club competition after setting an unwanted record last time out. During the 2021/2022 campaign, the Catalans failed to make it through the group stage for the first time since 2000/2001.
As for Barça’s Spanish rivals and defending champions Real Madrid, they have never failed to make it through the group stage of the Champions League. They will hope to keep that momentum alive in 2022. DM