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Lack of European Pedigree
Liverpool, Bayern Munich, Barcelona, and Real Madrid are among the most successful clubs in Champions League history, with each club having reached the finals on a lot more than one occasion.
Manchester City FC does not have this luxury. Whilst the club does have history and accusations that the club was ‘founded in 2008’ are wholly untrue, their relative newness to elite European football needs to be acknowledged.
Perhaps an underlying imposter syndrome runs deep at Manchester City, with the club not having the experience to navigate through Europe and truly compete with the best. We all know how good City are, but the Champions League trophy does not have to be won by the team who plays the best football. Instead, the trophy is won by the team who best weathers the storm of a high-pressure, knockout competition.
City’s easy-on-the-eye style and intricate, complicated demands can sometimes go awry, perhaps causing the players to freeze and the manager overcomplicating his message. In a competition where every second counts, these small errors can add up - and result in City being sent home from the Champions League.
Unsettled Team Selections
City’s best chances to finally win the long-awaited competition occurred in the 2020/21 season, where they finished as runners-up.
City were up against Premier League foes Chelsea, who had recently appointed Thomas Tuchel as their new head coach. A recent league game between them had ended in Chelsea’s favour thanks to a poor Sergio Aguero penalty, though many felt that City would get their win back in the final in Lisbon.
Guardiola has been accused of overthinking his defining Champions League games with City, and never was this better demonstrated by his decision to leave out Fernandinho and include Ilkay Gundogan in his midfield three.
Gundogan acted as the defensive midfielder in the game - a decision that was considered strange considering the German’s formidable goalscoring form. Kevin De Bruyne acted as the false-nine, whereas Phil Foden was dropped into central midfield.
City predictably dominated possession, but they lacked a killer instinct and fell victim to Chelsea’s direct, counter-attacking style of play. Kevin De Bruyne left the pitch in tears after fracturing his eye socket, Kai Havertz ran through City’s softer-than-usual centre to score, and rest was history.
Chelsea had once again got the better of City - this time on the biggest stage of them all. Whilst it’s naive to think that Fernandinho’s inclusion would’ve won the game, he could’ve been vital in key moments and who knows what would’ve happened from there.
Unfamiliarity With Defending Leads
City have achieved 100, 98, and 93-point seasons throughout Pep Guardiola’s reign, and it’s not often that they spend their time in the Premier League holding on to leads.
In fact, Guardiola’s City have beaten every team they’ve faced in the Premier League at one point or another, and teams often travel to the Etihad knowing they’ll be behind the ball for most of the game.
The Champions League, however, is an entirely different story, and perhaps the best example of this occurred in the second-leg of the 2021/22 Champions League semi-final. City were 1-0 after 90 minutes and just 180 seconds away from consecutive Champions League finals.
However, two late, late goals from Rodyrgo rattled Pep’s men, and a 95th-minute Karim Benzema penalty sent Madrid through to the final. Real Madrid were trailing City for the whole game and Benzema’s penalty put them ahead for the first time in the entire tie. Whilst we can’t take anything away from Real Madrid, it’s important to note that City utterly failed in their task to preserve their lead - perhaps because they’re simply not used to it.
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