Blues draw to leave ti­tle hopes in tat­ters

Manchester Evening News - - FRONT PAGE -

CITY started their Cham­pi­ons League group phase with a charge but are pulling up to­wards the end.

They started their away game with Ata­lanta ear­lier this month with the same pur­pose and author­ity they had played with to claim a 3-0 win away at Shakhtar Donetsk, but fell away in the sec­ond half and did not re­dis­cover top form for their home game with the Ukrainian cham­pi­ons.

They may have qual­i­fied, but per­for­mances such as Tues­day night’s will not have the rest of Europe quak­ing in their boots.

Go­ing off the last few sea­sons though, City shouldn’t care.

A few years ago the Blues gen­uinely looked like the best team in Europe in the group phase. Feyeno­ord and Shakhtar were eased past be­fore a thump­ing dou­ble over Napoli saw them qual­i­fied with two games to spare.

It all counted for noth­ing though when they were blown away by Liver­pool at An­field in the quar­ter­fi­nals.

Last time out Jur­gen Klopp’s side would have crashed out of their group had Arka­diusz Mi­lik not missed an easy op­por­tu­nity to equalise, while Vir­gil Van Dijk could also have seen red on an­other night for a studs-up chal­lenge on Dries Mertens.

But Liver­pool fans couldn’t care less about los­ing four games in the com­pe­ti­tion be­cause the bot­tom line is they won the match on June 1 to claim a sixth Euro­pean Cup.

City’s dis­play against Shakhtar will do lit­tle to sug­gest they are in the sort of form that can keep their in­cred­i­ble suc­cess go­ing.

Nine points off the pace in the ti­tle race al­ready, they will have to play much bet­ter to close the gap. As far as the Cham­pi­ons League goes, how­ever, it won’t make a blind bit of dif­fer­ence.

All that mat­ters is that the Blues are qual­i­fied and come the knock­out stages things will look sig­nif­i­cantly dif­fer­ent.

The last-16 does not be­gin un­til the sec­ond half of Fe­bru­ary and if Guardi­ola gets as pre­sentable draw as the last two years – al­though there are some dan­ger­ous teams lurk­ing as run­ners-up this year – the quar­ters do not kick off un­til April.

By then, Aymeric La­porte and Leroy Sane will hope to be back, Aleks Zinchenko should def­i­nitely be fit again and the team’s form could be trans­formed – at the very least, there will be more op­tions. That doesn’t mean City can write off the next four months but should give the squad one less thing to think about in that time as they aim to en­sure they win even more sil­ver­ware this sea­son. Guardi­ola may re­main un­con­vinced that his team can make it through the win­ter slog but on their day they are still ca­pa­ble of beat­ing any­one.

A few years ago the Blues gen­uinely looked like the best team in Europe – but it counted for noth­ing

Aymeric La­porte should be back for the fi­nal stages of the Cham­pi­ons League, as should Leroy Sane, left

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