Manchester City’s 3-1 win over the Catalan giants will go down as one of the most historic nights for the club and could be a victory that spurs the Citizens on in Europe.
After years of being underachievers in Europe, Manchester City may have finally truly arrived on the big stage after defeating Barcelona comprehensively in a 3-1 victory at the Etihad Stadium on Tuesday. Even if the scoreline was to be ignored, the manner in which the men in Sky Blue out-witted and out-classed arguably the best team in the world was worthy of high praise.
The big leap
Manchester City, since the takeover, have been fairly successful domestically, winning the Premier League twice, FA Cup once, League Cup twice and Community Shield once. They have also not finished below fourth place since the 2009/10 season.
However, in comparison, the club’s fortunes in Europe have been a complete contrast. The Citizens have been embarrassingly knocked out in the group-stage on two occasions, while bowing out in the round of 16 twice in the last five seasons. Until last season, their record in the Champions League stood as 16 wins in 40 matches.
Even though the club reached the semi-finals of last season’s edition of the Champions League, one always felt they have only flattered to deceive in Europe and have not truly been a force to be reckoned with, evidenced by the tame manner of their semi-final defeat to Real Madrid.
Other than their inexperience, one argument presented for the club’s poor record in Europe was the team suffered from an inferiority complex against the big guns of Europe — they paid too much respect to the opposition and paid the price as a result. It almost seemed City had a mental block when facing an opponent in the Champions League.
There were signs in Tuesday’s game against Barcelona that we may finally be witnessing a coming of age for the English club.
The club went toe-to-toe against one of the top three teams in the world, and not only did they come back from a one-goal deficit, but also out-played the Spanish giants in what was a truly historic result for the club and the fans.
After the drubbing at Camp Nou, Manchester City needed a response, and Pep Guardiola’s men responded in some style. The club needed a night like this, which could go a long way towards breaking down any potential mental blocks they may otherwise have faced later in the competition.
Fans’ apathy towards UEFA
The Champions League is considered as the holy grail in club football, but if you were to ask a Manchester City supporter to choose between the Premier League trophy and the Champions League, he would most probably opt for the former.
The City faithful first felt agitated with UEFA when they fined Porto a paltry €20,000 for racial abuse directed towards Mario Balotelli from their fans. A few weeks later, Manchester City were fined €30,000 for turning up 60 seconds late after half time — incredibly a heavier penalty than the racism incident.
Further, UEFA’s Financial Fair Play (FFP) was seen by Man City fans as protecting the already established clubs. To make matters worse, Manchester City were handed a £49 million fine by UEFA for failing to meet FFP regulations, which resulted in their squad size being restricted in the 2013-14 Champions League.
— Henry Winter (@henrywinter) November 1, 2016
Manchester City’s match against CSKA Moscow in Russia was the final straw. The game was ordered to be played behind closed doors after the CSKA fans were seen chanting racial slurs towards Yaya Toure. However, during the game, hundreds of CSKA fans were let into the stadium, while the City fans who travelled all the way to Moscow weren’t allowed to enter. After the match, UEFA deemed no rule was broken and thus took no action for this incident.
Ever since that match, City supporters have made a point to boo the UEFA anthem before the start of the game.
Manchester City’s poor performances in Europe did not help improve the fans’ feelings towards the competition. It wasn’t an uncommon sight for the fans to not turn up on match days in the Champions League, with attendance levels much lower in European games than in Premier League games.
Many would argue such apathy from the supporters also had an effect on the players. The fans are often spoken about as being the ’12th man’, and their contribution from the stands to the team can be vital for the team.
Nights like Tuesday will only help win over the fans again, which could eventually lead to creating a positive atmosphere on European nights at the stadium. There’s a good likelihood that the fans’ enthusiasm for the competition improves significantly with Pep Guardiola at the helm and with more victories like this one.
The future path
One of the key reasons for Manchester City’s downfall in Europe was over-reliance on individual players. Under Roberto Mancini and Manuel Pellegrini, it was a common sight for the likes of Yaya Toure, Sergio Aguero, Joe Hart and Kevin De Bruyne to bail out the team. However, when one of these players had an off game or was not at their influential best, the team would get brutally exposed given the negligible margin for error in the Champions League.
This is an area that has seen huge progress with Pep Guardiola as the manager. The team no longer solely relies on a single player’s presence or absence. The victories, like the one on Tuesday, are down to cohesive team displays.
Against Barcelona, every team member did his task diligently and covered for each other when necessary. The team played as a unit rather than as a team of individuals. The performance against Barcelona is sure to be a huge morale booster for the club.
While Manchester City is still a work in progress with teething problems still to be ironed out, the signs thus far have been very encouraging. On paper, the team is good enough to beat any club in the world, as evidenced by Tuesday’s win.
Manchester City fans have every right to be excited about the future.