The Quadruple might be off, but the Cityzens have finally overcome the UEFA Champions League Quarter-final hurdle under Pep Guardiola.
It may have taken five years, but Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City have finally made it into the semi-finals of the UEFA Champions League.
The Sky Blues went into their Quarter-final second leg with a 2-1 lead over Borussia Dortmund, but a Jude Bellingham strike put der BVB ahead on the night, leading City on away goals. City, however, were able to make a comeback in the second half, starting with Riyad Mahrez converting a penalty in the 55th minute that was given away by Emre Can, before Phil Foden struck one in from distance in the 75th minute to send his side into the semis with an aggregate score of 4-2.
Winning the Champions League has been an elusive target of both Man City and Pep Guardiola for many years now. Obvious moral dilemma due to their 2008 acquisition by the Abu Dhabi United Group aside, City have done a scintillating job in establishing themselves as one of the best sides in both England and Europe. They have won pretty much every big trophy they qualify for, but the Champions League trophy is universally considered the benchmark for being considered a big club with a legacy of historic proportions.
To take them to the ultimate European crown, City brought in Guardiola in 2016. Arguably one of the most inventive and successful managers of all time, but one who himself hasn’t won the Champions League since 2011, when he and his Barça side were at the height of their collective power. While Pep has undoubtedly helped City become ruthless winners year in, year out, things have remained rather embarrassing in the Champions League. There is absolutely no shame in losing out to your direct competitor in any competition, but the past four seasons have seen City get knocked out of the UCL by AS Monaco (2016-17, Round of 16), Liverpool (2017-18, Quarter-finals), Tottenham Hotspur (2018-19, Quarter-finals), and Olympique Lyonnais (2019-20, Quarter-finals). Each year they were considered favourites to go all the way. Each year they bowed out early thanks to a side they were expected to beat soundly.
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In the semis City face Paris Saint-Germain, a side with financial backing and aspirations not too dissimilar to City’s own, in more ways than one. PSG made it to the final last season but were beaten by Bayern Munich, the side they’ve seen off this year to make it to the semis. Both PSG and their manager, Mauricio Pochettino, have made the journey to a UCL final before, so they will undoubtedly look to use that as an edge over City. Both legs guarantee to be box office entertainment, with one side set to delay the other’s quest for the Holy Grail for yet another year.
With reaching the semi-finals this season, Manchester City have overcome a major psychological hurdle. Does it guarantee that they’ll go all the way? Of course not. This stage is the very least a side with their aspirations are expected to reach, but it’s certainly a step in the right direction, a step that properly reflects City’s intent and ruthless winning mentality. If they don’t with the UCL this year, questions will once again be raised but not to the same extent as previous years, for they’ll have lost to a direct, equally adept and deserving rival in PSG, Chelsea or Real Madrid, each of whom have made deeper journeys into the competition than City.
As I write this, City have just been knocked out of the FA Cup by Chelsea, ending their hopes of a historic Quadruple. It will be a tough pill to swallow, but it’s a trophy they’ve lifted before. The Champions League trophy is the one that has eluded them, it’s the one they care most about, and it’s the one they’ll gladly trade every other trophy they win this season for.