Blues draw to leave title hopes in tatters
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