Why This Champions League Campaign Is Pivotal To Pep Guardiola And Man City

Time is running out for Guardiola's European project...
07:05, 03 Nov 2021

As Manchester City gear up for their UEFA Champions League group stage clash with Club Brugge at Etihad Stadium this evening, the clock is ticking for boss Pep Guardiola to complete the very task he was brought in to do – make these domestic champions the European champions.

The Spaniard came so close to fulfilling the club’s dream last season as they reached the final, but they were ultimately defeated 1-0 at the hands of Thomas Tuchel’s Chelsea in Porto. In the most decisive moment in his five-year reign in the Etihad hot seat, Guardiola seemed to crumble to the pressure of delivering the trophy his bosses wanted more than anything else as he sent out a befuddling line-up that played a decisive factor in his side’s defeat. It was all set up to be the culmination of his dynasty at Man City as it was their first ever appearance in the final and they were the pre-match favourites to win it.

His team selection was rightly scrutinised in the wake of the defeat as he sacrificed defensive balance in midfield for more attack-minded players, while not having a recognised striker in Sergio Agüero or Gabriel Jesus on the pitch. For all the finals he has reached in his career as a manager, it was very surprising to see him execute his game plan so poorly, with his tactics looking alien in comparison to the experience he possesses.

But when you understand that the former Barcelona boss has not won the prestigious competition for 10 years, it is clear he is desperate to claim his third European title as a coach and he is at a club that have had the structure and resources to accomplish this feat for years. He is definitely feeling the pressure, even if he doesn’t always show it.

Guardiola has already announced that he plans to leave the club at the end of his current contract which is due to expire at the end of the 2022-23 season. This would mean that he has two more shots at guiding City to their first and coveted Champions League title and their first piece of European silverware since 1970 when they won the UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup.

Time is running out for the manager and the club to achieve their collective goal and if City were to fall considerably short of the final this season, the Spaniard would have a colossal challenge ahead of him, as well as even more pressure on his shoulders during his final season in Manchester. There is clear desire on his part to deliver the elusive trophy as this is the longest in his managerial career that he has stayed in one place. Into his sixth season now at the helm, he has delivered three Premier League titles, a record four consecutive EFL Cup titles, two FA Community Shields and one FA Cup.

But for all the domestic dominance he has achieved since his arrival in 2016, if he were to leave without a Champions League on his CV, he will be bitterly disappointed. However, it is worth remembering the transformation the squad has gone under during his tenure. His very first taste of Champions League football in charge of City was a 5-0 away victory against Steaua Bucharest in the play-off round. Out of the side that played that first game which featured Willy Caballero, Nicolas Otamendi, Nolito and Aleksandr Kolarov – only John Stones, Raheem Sterling and Kevin De Bruyne remain at the club.

In the first of five European campaigns Guardiola has overseen, they exited in the Round of 16 as they were beaten by away goals by Monaco after a thrilling 6-6 draw on aggregate. This was followed by three consecutive quarter-final exits before their first final last term. Those three seasons where City could not get past the quarter-final hurdle could prove to be costly if they were to struggle to reach the final again in Pep’s last two attempts. There is no doubting how much he has developed his side into the frightening force that they are, but he will need to push them harder than they have been under his watch if he is to crack the code that will earn him his long-awaited Champions League success with the club.

However, Father Time waits for no one, and the hourglass has been set. The sands of time are slowly running out for Guardiola to get his fairytale ending with the Citizens.

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