After coming ever so close to finally lifting the Champions League trophy last season, Manchester City surprisingly lost to Chelsea in the final. Many put the blame for the defeat on Pep Guardiola. He was accused of overthinking things by choosing to play without a defensive midfielder.
As the latest edition kicks off, the manager has a chance to make things right. City are among the favorites again as they have been for the past several campaigns. But Guardiola has moved to lower expectations from his team as they take on RB Leipzig today.
“The most important thing for the club is we were always in this competition in the last years. We do really well in the Premier League, which is why we deserve to be there,” he stated in the press conference ahead of the game.
“After that, try to compete with the best teams in Europe. We did really well but now we start another one. It is not guaranteed that if you do a really bad Champions League season you’re going to do a really bad Champions League season again and it is the same with the opposite: we did really well last season but it doesn’t mean we are going to do well.
“We have to regain and fight to deserve to be in the next stages. The first target is to win tomorrow, try to continue the rhythm and the way we played last season and the last three games, and see what happens.”
In recent times some teams have gone one step further after reaching the final to win a competition. Bayern Munich did it in 2013 after losing the previous final to Chelsea. Liverpool did it in 2019 after previously losing to Real Madrid.
However, it doesn’t quite work that way for most other clubs. Reaching a final guarantees nothing in a new season. It’s usually a clean slate for everyone. Teams restock on players to do better in the next campaign.
That’s exactly what the likes of Paris Saint-Germain, Manchester United and even defending champions Chelsea have done. All three teams are capable of lifting the trophy given the quality of the squads they posses.
But they are not the only ones looking good.
All of Real Madrid, Liverpool and Bayern Munich are strong contenders. Not only do they have good teams that can excel on their day, they also have something most others (including City) don’t have - vast experience in the tournament.
Based on that, in a way, City are outsiders. The odds are stacked against the Cityzens. So getting eliminated in any of the knock out stages is very possible. It should not come as a surprise to anyone. Understanding that can make the pain of elimination a lot more bearable if it does happen.
Guardiola is very smart here to put this idea in the fans’ minds in case of such eventuality. Even the media can use this. It could reduce the level of criticisms directed at both the manager, the team and the club as a whole.
But the team can also achieve the opposite. At their best, the Blues can beat any other team on the continent.
Last term’s disappointment can provide extra motivation to the boys for this campaign. Sometimes that’s what is required to achieve a much sought-after goal.
At the moment, City faithful should prepare their minds for the best or the worst. Whatever happens in the end, we may have to agree with Guardiola that:
“The most important thing for the club is we were always in this competition in the last years.”