Manchester City have been installed among the favourites to win the UEFA Champions League since hiring Pep Guardiola as manager nearly eight years ago.

It’s hardly a stretch to suggest the Spaniard was brought in to take the club to the next level. With City having won two league titles in two of the five seasons prior to Pep’s arrival at the Etihad Stadium, the next level commensurate with the club’s financial resources was and remains the elusive Champions League trophy.

The permanent annual favourites tag is justified. City have a formidable war chest, thanks to owners the City Football Group. And in Guardiola they have a decorated general who has the requisite  tactical astuteness after winning the competition twice with Barcelona.

Admittedly, Pep’s Champions League managerial reputation took a bit of a knock during his three-year spell at Bayern Munich, where he failed to replicate his Barca heroics. It’s a minor blot on his copybook. Still, the Man City boss remains arguably the best around, but with no divine right to win every competition around.

Favourites again?

On Tuesday night the Citizens put down a marker with a 7-0 demolition of RB Leipzig, a result that reverberated across Europe.

No disrespect to the teams still in the competition, but City look by far and away the strongest contenders in my book.

Apart from the reigning Premier League champions, the only other standout team is Napoli, not because they are miles better than the rest of the hopefuls, but by their previous standards both at home and in Europe. Otherwise, the general consensus is that this is the most open Champions League campaign in recent years.

It would be foolish to dismiss the claims of the likes of Real Madrid, who are looking for their second successive title and ninth overall, and Bayern Munich, whose pedigree in this competition is up there with the best. However, on their day Guardiola’s men have the beating of any team in the world.

Monkey on Pep’s back

Guardiola continues to tell whoever cares to listen that he is not obsessed with winning the Champions League with Man City. Forget that public stance. Secretly, Pep will be desperate to get the monkey off his back.

Guardiola has won every trophy on offer in the English domestic game. The ‘Big Ears’ would be the jewel on his Man City crown. Many are saying City will never have a better chance than this season.

Victim of his own genius

Guardiola has often been accused of tactical overkill – overthinking his tactics if you will – and trying to be too clever by half.

A common strand in the theme of the postmortem in the wake of City’s Champions League final defeat by Chelsea two seasons ago was that Pep sacrificed his side’s chances on the altar of tactical self-indulgence. Geniuses are wont to do that from time to time. They are feted when the plan comes off, or roundly panned for abandoning the basics when the elaborate plan falls flat.

Guardiola’s Champions League final selection against the Blues was a tinker too far. “Pep doth ‘tinketh’ too much,” observed City and rival fans alike.

Ending Champions League hoodoo

Few will bet against Pep Guardiola guiding Man City to Champions League glory this season. And if Pep should go on to win it at the eighth time of asking, rest assured there will be compliments and backhanded compliments – the “finally” sign of relief followed by a reminder that it took the Spaniard longer than expected.

City must end their Champions League hoodoo sooner rather than later.  Otherwise they are in real danger of earning a reputation as Champions League chokers, the “nearly men” of European football’s preeminent club competition.


I'm Barrie Jarrett, born in Leeds, lived over a decade in South Africa, CEO And Co Founder of Planet Sport Limited and Planet Bet Limited.

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