Manchester City enters every season as favourites for all the trophies the team is contesting for these days. There is a good reason for that. The team is so good. Be it the Premier League title, FA Cup, Carabao Cup or the Big One (you know what I mean, right?), emerging victorious in the end will not surprise anyone.
In fact, it is actually a failure to win trophies that has become surprising as far as the Blues are concerned. This explains why the media has recently become obsessed with the idea of City winning the quadruple. It seems the natural occurrence for such a good team. I mean only a few teams can genuinely consider themselves capable of beating Man City in any competition at the moment. For everyone else, that will constitute an upset.
So when this monster of a team inexplicably fails to get past Monaco, Tottenham and Lyon in a competition, something is definitely wrong somewhere. The fact that it cleared all the trophies on offer on the domestic front back in 2019 did not matter. When it came to the Champions League, a familiar but unwanted pattern continued.
It does not take a tech whiz to decode this. City’s failure in Europe is more of a mental situation than a physical one. It seems once that UEFA anthem hits and the players realize this is the Champions League, everything changes for them. And it is not quite what happens to Real Madrid players. The lion in the Spanish side wakes up and the players are at another level irrespective of how the title race is going in La Liga.
Not even taming that lion last season was good enough to clear the mental block for City players. They embarrassingly lost to a Lyon side that was languishing at seventh place in the French Ligue 1.
After four successive years of getting stuck at the same stage, Guardiola has decided to change his approach, or at least add another dimension to how he prepares his players.
Mental conditioning or reconditioning could do the magic this time. That must be what he was trying to do with a particular statement in his pre-match interview ahead of the encounter with Borussia Dortmund.
“It looks nicer or special as a competition but it’s the same as the FA Cup, Carabao Cup, and we approach it in the same way,” Guardiola said when referring to the Champions League.
It is understandable if the Catalan boss tells his players this in the dressing room to calm their nerves. But we all know the Champions League, Europe’s elite competition, the Holy Grail, the mother of all trophies as far as club football is concerned is nothing like the FA Cup, Carabao Cup or even the Premier League title.
It is on a different level, and the players know it. Pep knows it. We all know it!
But hopefully, what he has told the players works this time. It is long overdue for that shiny little piece of silverware to adorn the trophy cabinet at the Etihad Stadium. How can a small trophy similar to the Carabao Cup prove so difficult to win? A Cup we have been winning back-to-back beating current European heavyweights like Sunderland, Southampton, Arsenal and most recently Aston Villa.
Do you get the point?
Anyway, following Pep’s Barcelona days, let’s just say 12 years of waiting to win a trophy is a long time. That, despite trying season after season to no avail. At this point, we may as well adopt every strategy necessary to get over the line and hope the end justifies the means.