Manchester City: The Curse Is Broken
Memories of Barcelona, the Real Madrid semi-final, that Monaco side, the Anfield horror show, Agüero’s missed penalty, the last-minute VAR controversy and that miserable night against Lyon, were all put to bed as Pep Guardiola guided his team to the Champions League Final for the first time in Manchester City’s history.
Since Guardiola’s arrival, this Manchester City side has dominated domestically, but on the European Stage, they’ve never reached the same heights. Mancini’s struggles to progress from the group stage, and Pellegrini’s semi-final woes offered a foundation for Guardiola to build on. 5 years into his reign, he has created a side that finally looks comfortable on the biggest of stages.
As expected, the Catalan led his side to six wins out of six in the group stage, before cruising past a Borussia Monchengladbach side in the round of sixteen. It may not seem the biggest of achievements for the quality this City side has, but with previous struggles against Basel, Schalke and Monaco, this was another step in the right direction.
The Manchester outfit were then assigned with the task of overcoming a Dortmund side that were ready to punish City in the same fashion as Lyon. On the Counterattack. Haaland et Al would be more than happy to exploit the spaces in behind City. But looking back on the 180mins of football, the Dortmund forwards had nothing to feed on. And this is testament to the almost indestructible defence Guardiola has sculptured.
Pep Guardiola has spent over half a billion euros on his defence during his time in Manchester, with nine defenders and two goalkeepers arriving in the last four years. At the start of this unprecedented campaign, the Manchester outfit spent just short of seventy million euros on Ruben Dias from Benfica. Initially, football supporters thought this was just ‘another’ one of Pep’s big money signings that won’t turn out to be the player to solve their defensive issues. But the Portuguese defender’s arrival has been nothing less than perfect. This is the first season City’s defence has looked as assured as their attack has looked frightening. Not only has Dias implemented a colossus figure into the backline of Manchester City’s, but he has also been played a huge role in the revitalisation of John Stones’ career in Manchester. Stones joined City in 2016 as a huge prospect and his price tag certainly emphasised that. He had never really matched the expectations that were put upon him, with him almost a cert to be signing for a new club this season.
The partnership of Dias and Stones has been nothing short of immense this season with Man City keeping eighteen clean sheets in their Premier League campaign thus far, already two more than last season. With the question being ‘can they implement their style in Europe though?’ over the last few years, the defensive solidity of this Manchester City has not changed, no matter what competition they’re competing in. They’ve only conceded four goals in this years UEFA Champions League keeping eight clean sheets out of twelve. Statistics that well and truly have earnt this City side the right to play in the final of the most prestigious club cup competition on the planet.
Manchester City’s triumph over Borussia Dortmund set up an emphatic semi-final between themselves and Paris St Germain. The first time the Premier League Champions Elect have reached this stage under Guardiola. With PSG being finalists last season, they knew how to progress from this stage unlike their opponents, making it an even tougher task for City. But that wasn’t the case after the first leg as Manchester City left the French Capital with a 2-1 win. A sign of things changing. The return leg the following week would require City’s colossus defence to put in another standout performance, but their bid to progress to the final was made significantly easier when Kylian Mbappe was unable to feature due to an injury picked up against Lens a few days prior.
Guardiola insisted that “they [Man City] must stick together in the bad moments and suffer together”.
The Manchester City manager expected PSG to unnerve City in some moments and they certainly did that. Manchester City set up with two sitting midfielders of Fernandinho and Gundogan. However, PSG strangely got a lot of joy in the spaces in behind the Manchester City midfield. Leaving Guardiola raging more than he’d like. Sometimes the home side were sloppy in possession. Ederson, out of all people, gave the ball straight to Di Maria, and looking back on his effort, the Argentine may feel he could’ve done better with his effort at an empty net. But the Brazilian keeper was partially responsible with calming the nerves of every individual associated with Manchester City, with a trademark pass over the PSG defence resulting in Mahrez slotting home his first of a very impressive brace.
A weaving Neymar run in the second half was matched with a heroic slide tackle from Oleksandr Zinchenko that earned him hugs from Stones and Dias, that genuinely emulated a goal. All season the defenders have complemented each other’s contributions and as a collective, this was their best performance yet. Keeping a clean sheet against Neymar and co is not easy for any defence. Kyle Walker and Zinchenko probably had their best games in a sky-blue shirt, John Stones seems to get better every game and Dias had his most commanding game yet. Which says a lot.
The Cityzens will now look to wrap up their Premier League campaign with the title before turning their attention to the Ataturk Stadium in Istanbul for the Champions League Final where they’ll face Chelsea F.C.
Manchester City vs Chelsea FC
Ataturk Stadium, Istanbul, Turkey
Champions League Final