For a second straight year, Manchester City are on the tougher side of the Champions League bracket. Here’s why that might not hurt them this time.
Manchester City, after practically wrapping up the Premier League title, have also set their sights on winning the Champions League. The trophy has eluded the English side despite having a deep roster and even deeper pockets.
Man City is back in the quarterfinals, where they’ve bowed out in each of the past three seasons under manager Pep Guardiola. However, this is a team that been transformed this year and could very well lift the trophy despite being on the tougher side of the bracket.
What’s been different for Manchester City this season?
The pandemic has changed European soccer, from forcing teams to have to deal with a compressed preseason to limited fans in the stands, and Guardiola has adapted along with it. Guardiola has implemented more conservative tactics and shored up his defense.
As a result, the team has been more consistent, both domestically and in the Champions League, over this past season. A team that has spent billions to win Europe’s biggest prize can finally do it this spring.
In their way is Borussia Dortmund. The sides meet Tuesday in Manchester in the first of two legs to kick off the quarterfinals. The stats seem to favor Man City. The English have won 10 out of their last 11 Champions League meetings against German clubs.
Furthermore, Man City and Dortmund previously met in the 2012-13 edition of the Champions League, facing off in the group stage. In the only two previous meetings between the sides, Man City and Dortmund played to a 1-1 draw in Manchester. City won 1-0 on the road.
Guardiola’s more cautious tactical approach this season could mean a repeat of such tight scorelines. Guardiola has also had to deal with a compressed schedule and a recent international window that has forced him to rotate his starting lineup.
“I rotate because it is not possible to play every day, to win all competitions in this year without spectators when we start later and finish earlier, you cannot be there where we are if you don’t rotate,” he told reporters ahead of the Dortmund clash.
Should Manchester City advance, they would face the winner of Bayern Munich-Paris Saint Germain, a rematch of last year’s final. Having to face either team would set up one of the biggest semifinal clashes in tournament history.
Bayern, the defending champions and odds-on favorites to repeat, would be a formidable opponent, although this Man City side could compete this season in a head-to-head clash when they would have struggled in season’s past.
Man City’s defense, anchored by English internationals John Stones and Kyle Walker, are aided in midfield by Bernardo Silva and Kevin de Bruyne.
Guardiola hasn’t totally given in to defensive tactics. This is still a team that likes to attack and play an entertaining brand of soccer. The team has scored 66 goals in 31 league matches. In the Champions League, they’ve tallied 17 times in eight matches. Man City have also had 51 attempts on goal, the most of any team still in the competition.
The Man City attack, spearheaded by Raheem Sterling, had struggled earlier this season. Since December, the offense has kicked into high gear thanks to players like Ilkay Gundogan and De Bruyne’s ability to set up teammates.
“We try to be aggressive,” Guardiola said of his game plan against Dortmund. “We want to win. That is what we need to do.”