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Pragmatism: How Manchester City Must Approach the Champions League

Is it all in or is there another way?

Manchester City v AFC Bournemouth - Premier League Photo by Joe Prior/Visionhaus via Getty Images

A fourth Premier League title in five years sealed Manchester City’s dominance in English football. The club has won all there is to win on the domestic scene. It’s now a question of “what next?”

As the new Champions League season approaches, all eyes are now on what the team achieves in Europe. It’s rather surprising that Manchester City have not won the Champions League in the last decade given the team’s outstanding all-round performance.

Bubbling with exceptional players all over the pitch that could single-handedly win even the most difficult of games by conjuring magical moments, it remains a mystery that the team has failed so spectacularly in the competition.

Of course, reaching the semifinals several times and even the final in recent times shows it’s not all gloom and doom. There is clear progress from the past, but at a time when both Liverpool and Chelsea have won the competition in the last three years with Tottenham also reaching the final, City have clearly under-performed and underachieved.

That is more pronounced when one considers the calibre of teams that have dumped the Blues out of the competition in the last few years, especially in the Pep Guardiola era. From Monaco to Lyon, Tottenham, and even Chelsea, these teams should have no business beating City consistently at crucial stages in any competition. Not in this era anyway.

Proof of that is in each of those games, the Blues outplayed their opponents (as was the case with Real Madrid last time out) and only lost by the slimmest of margins due to a sudden loss of concentration or a calamitous collapse that is difficult to explain.

In each of the exits under Pep Guardiola, the manager has promised the players will learn from the experience and benefit from it in future. The only problem is that it has not happened yet. Near success has been the case in his six seasons in charge. Last season’s collapse against Real Madrid is sufficient proof.

The team has simply been too honest or rather naive at critical points when a pragmatic approach was necessary to see out games. Leading the Spanish giants 2-0 on aggregate as at the 89th minute of the second leg of the semifinal, anything great trophy-winning team of the past will take the pragmatic approach.

Simply stop the flow of the game.

Make the game difficult for the opponent by refusing to play; take the ball to the corner flag and draw every possible foul you can get. Run down the clock and see out the game.

In international competitions, Brazil invented it, Italy borrowed it and even Germany use it. The result is almost always the same; success.

Interestingly, in the very same game, Madrid used it against City when they gained the upper hand.

The acquisition of a world class striker in Erling Haaland leaves City no more excuse to finally bring home the coveted European silverware. Its presence at the Etihad Stadium trophy cabinet is long overdue.

Success in the competition will require a new approach. One that shows composure and maturity. One where the team understands that sometimes, yes sometimes it’s better to adopt the classic defensive style of Diego Simeone’s Atletico Madrid or Jose Mourinho’s parking the bus and win rather than trying to implement Johan Cruyff’s or Guardiola’s free-flowing football and lose.

That’s pragmatism.

It doesn't mean the team has to change it's style. It means it now has more tools in the box to use when necessary.