Why Guardiola Should Go All-Out To Win The Champions League
It was a Wednesday night and Thursday morning which surely made for interesting viewing for Pep Guardiola once he got home from Manchester City’s Carabao Cup win at Oxford United and picked up his TV remote.
Soccer bosses are prone to sitting up through the night watching recorded matches to ease the adrenaline rush of managing their own teams. Yes, even away at Oxford United. Probably.
So if Pep was up and about through the early hours checking out the opposition, he might have given himself some food for thought about his side’s prospects in the competition that matters most of all, the Champions League.
On offer was the first 0-0 draw in Spain’s El Clasico derby between Barcelona and Real Madrid in 17 years, suggesting that neither team really has it in them to challenge City’s position as the bookies’ favourites to lift the big, old European Cup trophy in Istanbul in May.
Even after they were drawn away against Real – winners in four of the past six seasons and our value bet tip for this year's trophy – in next Spring’s last 16, City remained top of the betting to win the competition across the board.
Champions League Outright Odds
They are priced at 4/1 with Bet365, Ladbrokes and Coral among others with holders Liverpool second favourites at 9/2 with the same three outfits.
This, too, despite the faltering of their attempt to win a third straight Premier League title with the team in third place, 14 points behind leaders Liverpool and four points behind second-placed Leicester City, whom they meet in a crunch clash at the Etihad on Saturday evening.
One factor influencing the analysts may be that City’s superb French defender Aymeric Laporte may be back in the team by time the last 16 ties come around after a lengthy absence with a knee injury.
Yet Guardiola always insists that he does not prioritise the Champions League, which he has won twice as a manager and once as a player with Barcelona in 1992.
This season, he may have no choice but to make it the main target with Liverpool in such runaway form domestically.
Alternatively in that TV Recordings file, there was Roberto Firmino scoring an injury-time goal for the Reds in the semi-final of the World Club Cup against Monterrey in Qatar which reminded us all yet again that under Jurgen Klopp, they always find a way to win – and may do again in Europe, although surely the league title is their most coveted aim.
Then there was Cristiano Ronaldo’s stunning leap for the headed winner for Juventus against Sampdoria which showed that even at 34, he may still have it in him to single-handedly inspire the Italians in the Champions League as he did so often for Real Madrid.
Causes for optimism and worry then on the Sky Q box in Pep’s plush Manchester abode. We’re assuming he’s got all the necessary subscriptions and equipment, by the way. He would have, wouldn’t he?
Liverpool’s price to retain the trophy they won by beating Spurs 2-0 in Madrid last June is 4/1 with Betfair, Betvictor and PaddyPower. The same three bookies rate Barca as third favourites at 5/1.
Paris St Germain – impressive in the group stage with five wins and one draw – are priced fourth across the board; 15/2 with Ladbrokes, UniBet and Betfred.
Then its Bayern Munich, who won all six group fixtures and are 7/1 with Bet365 and Boylesports.
Ronaldo’s Juventus are sixth average favourites – 11/1 with Coral, Betway and Ladbrokes.
Real, City’s opponents, are way out at 20/1 with William Hill.
Last season, Pep won an unprecedented home Treble of league title, FA Cup and Carabao Cup for City.
It was a huge achievement – especially as Liverpool hunted them all the way in the Premier League – but it also served to underline even further that the major aim of the internationally-funded City project on the pitch is to win the Champions League.
Guardiola often says this isn’t the case. But most observers take it with a pinch of salt.
First of all, the owners surely wouldn’t be involved if it wasn’t to win the biggest prize of them all.
A first win for City in the competition 12 years after the Middle Eastern take-over would legitimise the club’s crash entry in to the elite level of clubs, about which many rival fans and administrators remain sceptical and sniffy.
It would also turbo-charge the global appeal of the club on both a corporate and sponsorship level and among the millions of fans they hope to pick up in football’s emerging markets.
Those two factors are inexorably entwined, anyway. And with the aim of the City Project also to win political and diplomatic benefits for Abu Dhabi off the pitch, the prestige of a Champions League win would be invaluable.
If push came to shove among City’s supporters, they would most likely plump for a Champions League triumph, too.
After four league title wins in the current era, its simply natural that they should want to take the next step.
Then there is the fact that Manchester United have won the competition three times and the bragging battle in the city is ferocious.
Those two meet now in the Carabao Cup’s two-legged semi-final.
Guardiola has won it twice already in his three years in England. United’s Ole Gunnar Solskjaer needs his first trophy.
It wouldn’t harm City’s focus on the Champions League too much of they didn’t reach another EFL Cup final would it?
Especially not with the first leg tie in Europe against Real in Madrid on February 26, just four days before the Wembley date on March 1.
Guardiola Wants To Make history
Guardiola has some personal issues with the Champions League these days, too.
He is not the kind to feel his career has been tarnished by his recent failures at this elite level. And only a fool would fail to acknowledge the brilliance of his unique methods and his fabulous achievements.
Nevertheless, the awkward statistics are piling up. And at his very core, he wants to win. And win again.
In three seasons, he has yet to take City past the last eight. In his first season there, they exited at the last 16 stage against Monaco before quarter-final defeats by Liverpool and then Spurs last season.
In three prior campaigns with Bayern Munich he didn’t get past the semi-finals.
The two victories with Barcelona over Manchester United in the finals of 2009 and 2011 were dazzling but some time ago now.
One of the marks of true greatness among the elite managers club is to have won the European Cup with more than one club.
Jose Mourinho has done it with Porto and Inter Milan, Carlo Ancelotti with AC Milan and Real Madrid.
The Austrian Ernst Happel did it with Feyenoord and Hamburg while German Ottmar Hitzfeld won with Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund. Fellow German Jupp Heynckes won with Bayern and Real Madrid.
Even for Pep, there are new levels to reach. The fabulous feat of a third successive league title may be beyond him now. Yet it may help him join that rarefied band of double Kings of Europe come next May in Turkey.