Tagged: Manchester City

What’s Next For the League Champions in England, Spain, Germany, Italy and France?

Europe’s top leagues come to an end this weekend with no suspense about the potential winners.

Teams in La Liga, Serie A and Ligue 1 will play their final games with most players concerned about the upcoming World Cup, or their holiday plans. The Premier League and Bundesliga already wrapped up last weekend. The only surprise this season where league titles are concerned was the battle between Juventus and Napoli in the Serie A.

Whereas all the other competitions finished, or likely will finish, with double-digit leads for the leaders, Napoli made Juventus work for a seventh consecutive title. Elsewhere, Manchester City accumulated a historic 100 points with a 19-point lead over Manchester United in England and Bayern Munich finished 21 points ahead of Schalke in Germany. Barcelona has a 12-point lead with one game remaining in Spain while Paris Saint-Germain waltzed to a 15-point lead over Monaco in France with one unimportant game remaining.

For all their dominance domestically, these teams failed to meet expectations in Europe.

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Manchester City were dark horse contenders for the Champions League, and a solid run in the competition was expected considering the talent at Pep Guardiola’s disposal. City’s early season form, and the fantastic play that came with it, heightened expectations that a good run would occur barring disaster. That disaster came in the form of a confident, energetic Liverpool team and City were brushed aside over two legs. There’s no need for Guardiola’s side to be too concerned though.

The Citizens still have a fantastic squad with depth and experience. Yaya Toure’s departure means a new midfield addition is likely and the arrival of a left-back will free up Fabian Delph play his more natural role. If he stays. One major question will be whether Guardiola makes the right decision when City reach that stage again. He hasn’t made much of a dent on this competition since his Barcelona days. Next season would be a good time to start.

h/t Xavier Bonilla/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Barcelona will end the season with a double but it certainly feels underwhelming.

The Blaugrana were bailed out time and again by Lionel Messi in games big and small. The loss of Neymar decreased the squad’s attacking verve and Ernesto Valverde’s approach didn’t help. That was clear in the embarrassing collapse against Roma in the Champions League. The former Athletic Bilbao manager essentially trotted out a supercharged version of his former Bilbao squads this season. The defensive solidity was a welcome change but it made Barcelona reliant on Messi’s magic against well-organized opposition.

The squad will likely see an overhaul as it seems Valverde had a hard time trusting Denis Suarez and Andre Gomes in midfield. Barcelona fans would certainly have no problem with the latter getting the boot. The major issue will be Andres Iniesta’s departure and, again, central defense. It’s possible that Valverde, if he stays, will fit Philippe Coutinho in that role but there is still a lack of overall depth in the squad. It also matters that there are few real difference makers on the bench unlike their rivals, Real Madrid. Valverde will have to change something next season beyond players. If he wants to remain solid and is as averse to the 4-3-3 as he seems then a 4-2-3-1 with Messi behind Suarez would be better than the 4-4-2 we saw so much of this season.

 

Reuters

Bayern Munich sacked Carlo Ancelotti early in the season and they probably aren’t upset with the result. Had they matched Real Madrid’s clinical finishing in the Champions League semifinal then they would be looking at a possible treble. There will certainly be some major decisions to make over the summer. Jupp Heynckes’ stint at the club is one, and overhauling an ageing squad is another. Bayern still has no problems domestically with the likes of Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery but the wing duo no longer have a major impact in Europe. The overall depth of the squad is okay but making James Rodriquez a full-time member of the squad should be a priority. Another forward to back up, or possibly replace, Robert Lewandowski would be a good addition.

A large part of Bayern’s success next season will depend on who is at the helm. They should return to the latter stages of the Champions League but it will be a long road.

 

Reuters

Juventus. No more Gianluigi Buffon means a new era begins. It was sad to see the legendary goalkeeper’s last European game end as it did, especially after what was almost a fantastic comeback. Europe still eludes the Old Lady though Maximiliano Allegri led the side to another double this season. The domestic success came with some ups and downs. By the way, if you haven’t watched the Juventus series on Netflix then do so. It’s fantastic. Allegri’s decisions in certain games nearly cost Juventus another Serie A title just as much as Napoli’s collapse won it for them. The core of the squad makes for a serious contender in Europe but fresh faces are needed in defense and midfield.

 

h/t: Christophe Archambault/AFP/Getty Images

Paris Saint-Germain already have a new coach, as BBC reports Thomas Tuchel has taken over from Unai Emery. That was expected after the disappointing defeat to Real Madrid in the Round of 16. The league is a given for this squad with Tuchel in charge. The possibility of Neymar’s departure will be a major cause for concern though. The Brazilian left Barcelona to be a leading force in a Champions League contender but saw his side fail miserably without him. A replacement for Thiago Motta’s experience in midfield will be necessary but, barring any major departures, Tuchel has a lot to work with. His inexperience in the Champions League may be the one thing that works against the Parisians.

 

How Far Can the Premier League Teams Go in This Season’s Champions League?

We’re halfway through the group stages of the Champions League and the Premier League are yet to receive their usual dressing down by the media. Well, Manchester City are sure to get an earful in the next couple days after the loss to Barcelona but we’ll get to that later.

As things stand Arsenal, Leicester City, Tottenham and Manchester City are all in a decent positions to progress from the group stage. Leicester are, of course, the surprise of the bunch with three wins out of three. The last time all English teams made it out of the group stages was the 2013/14 season in which Chelsea made it to the semifinals and Manchester United made it to the quarterfinals. A similar return wouldn’t be too disappointing given the respective pre-tournament doubts about Leicester and Tottenham.

Right now the most likely opponents, meaning those in first or second in each group, are Paris Saint-Germain, Napoli, Besiktas, Barcelona, Atletico Madrid, Bayern Munich, Monaco, Borussia Dortmund, Real Madrid, FC Copenhagen, Juventus and Sevilla. Other teams within touching distance in third place include Borussia Mochengladbach, Benfica, Porto, Bayer Leverkusen and Lyon. Admittedly, it is easier to see who will progress after four rounds but even that isn’t a given. The Premier League clubs wouldn’t face each other in the Round of 16 regardless of position or seeding given they are from the same league and who knows what form they or their opposition will be when the tournament returns next February. While the current standings means each team would face some unwanted opponents should they reach the knockout rounds, Bayern Munich, Barcelona, Real Madrid, Juventus and Atletico Madrid stand out, it would be hard to fully count them out for a variety of reasons.

Leicester have, as expected, benefited from being a top seed as champions of the Premier League and were put in a manageable group. While their domestic form leaves little to be the desired, Claudio Ranieri’s side has produced some professional performances their first time on the European stage. Progression is expected at this point and there’s a high probability they will be seeded again after finishing first. As ESPNFC’s Iain Macintosh pointed out, the club’s focus on European football is admirable but a Champions League trophy to follow-up last season’s Premier League is out of the question. Leicester could certainly compete with many of the teams still in with a chance of progression but their preseason losses to PSG and Barcelona are indicative of what would occur should they face the elite. A soft draw could lead to a Cinderella run but this side’s inexperience and lack of real quality in midfield will be their undoing. That’s not the case for Tottenham.

With two home games remaining, Tottenham could very well end up first in what is currently a very tight group. Even if they don’t, their intensity and quality will be enough to unsettle any of their more illustrious opponents. Spurs want to join the elite in the Premier League and part of that will be showing they can compete on multiple fronts. Mauricio Pochettino’s squad now has some decent depth even if they don’t have the Champions League experience of Arsenal and Manchester City. Last season’s Europa League run will be beneficial despite the disappointing end and Spurs will hope to do one better than their London rivals.

Arsenal seem to be benefitting from finishing second last season and thus having a higher seeding in the draw. Funny how that works. Paris Saint-Germain, especially this work in progress version, aren’t the most daunting nouveau-riche side to face. If the Gunners don’t pull their usual deer in the headlights performances away against Basel and Ludorogets then the home game against PSG should decide first place. Oh, what a day that would be. This Arsenal side look a lot more focused and efficient up front with Alexis Sanchez leading the line, again, no surprise there, and they may finally get over the Round of 16 hump. We hope. It may come down to how tight things are in the Premier League race in February but this is the trophy missing from Wenger’s cabinet so Arsenal will be expected to give it their all.

And lastly, Manchester City.

The 4-0 loss to Barcelona was a blow, especially when coupled with Borussia Mochengladbach’s win over Celtic, but it’s not the end of the world. Were it not for Fernandinho’s slip and Claudio Bravo’s horrendous decision the game would’ve played out differently, and there may even have been talk of Manchester City finally becoming elite. That didn’t happen but they are on the way there. City finally has a manager to make the difference on this stage in Pep Guardiola. If he continues to get his tactics right as he did against Barcelona, and the players can cut out the mistakes and step up their game, then City have the best chance of the English quartet. A draw against Barcelona at home and win against Mochengladbach in their next two games and second place is all but assured. Of course, those aren’t the targets to set but the minimum needed. This team wouldn’t be huge underdogs against the elite like their fellow Premier League sides.

There’s no telling what’s in store for any of these teams with the group stages not finished but anything can happen. Of course, they could render all the above thoughts useless by failing to progress in the tournament but the odds do seem in their favour. Arsenal and City will expect to progress further given their experience and the quality in their squads. Both Tottenham and Leicester can revel in the fact that they are lesser know quantities, as much as can be in this digital age, and can use that to their advantage.

It’s unlikely that more than one of these teams will make it to the semifinal but stranger things have happened. The Champions League its still in infancy but these might turn out to be a good season for the Premier League clubs.

Manuel Pellegrini leaves a mixed legacy at Manchester City – ESPN FC

Manuel Pellegrini leaves a mixed legacy at Manchester City – ESPN FC

The last six months has been poor for both Pellegrini and City. One could say Pellegrini didn’t care anymore and neither did the players. It’s hard to argue that it’s because of the announcement of Pep’s arrival. The last time that happened Jupp Heynckes just went on and got the treble. Pellegrini did leave with trophies but a lot of the performances from this year and towards the end of last year means memories of him at Manchester City might not be as fond.

I still don’t get why everybody’s on Navas’ case although this author says its time to find alternatives then pretty much says he’ll end up staying. I think he’ll stay too. Here’s a World Cup, European Championship, UEFA Cup and Premier League winner who offers a skillset that can help provide some variety and balance to a team. He may not be the Navas of old, I think his confidence is shot even though he continues to get picked, but Guardiola could just be the manager to get him back to his best.

Why the Time Has Come for Manchester City to Find Alternatives to Jesus Navas

Pep Guardiola must carry out major surgery to rouse Manchester City | Football | The Guardian

Pep Guardiola must carry out major surgery to rouse Manchester City | Football | The Guardian

These last few weeks must have been an eye-opener for Pep Guardiola. So much work to be done with City’s first team. I’m sure there will be one or two moves that many consider surprising once everything is done. If he makes a number of changes and still challenges significantly on all fronts then that would have to be considered a success. Of course, this being City and Pep then any lack of silverware will bring out the critics again.

Premier League Chaos Has Claimed the Elite: Can Incoming Bosses Rise Above It? | Bleacher Report

Premier League Chaos Has Claimed the Elite: Can Incoming Bosses Rise Above It? | Bleacher Report

Really good piece here. Next season will be really interesting and at first glance one would think the incoming high-profile managers will be key and basically restore order. We’ve already seen what Jurgen Klopp can do without a full preseason. Mauricio Pochettino is setting himself apart as well while Wenger is declining at Arsenal. There are other good managers and teams throughout the league but with the resources they have the big clubs look likely to return to the top.

In Brahim Diaz, Manchester City Are Reaping the Reward of Investment in Youth | Bleacher Report

In Brahim Diaz, Manchester City Are Reaping the Reward of Investment in Youth | Bleacher Report

City’s investment in youth has been really impressive. With Pep Guardiola on the way, we are likely to see players like Brahim Diaz etc come through even more. They have definitely set themselves up well.

In a Season That’s Made No Sense, Manchester City Could Land the Holy Grail | Bleacher Report

In a Season That’s Made No Sense, Manchester City Could Land the Holy Grail | Bleacher Report

You would definitely think they have a better chance of making it to the final versus Real Madrid as opposed to Atletico or Bayern. You have to think Manuel Pellegrini’s a bit happy at the chance to exact some revenge on Florentino Perez. It’s astounding the money that’s been spent to get to this point and if I’m correct that’s all based on transfers and not even considering money on the academy etc. I don’t exactly agree with the author’s assertion that puts them ahead of Paris Saint-Germain even if they did get to the semifinals first. Also, I don’t think one trip to the semifinals means City is part of the elite. Just like with players, teams need sustained success to be considered for a status upgrade. That may just come with Guardiola in charge.

Manchester City join European elite as Sheikh Mansour’s money counts

Kevin De Bruyne Sends Manchester City To Champions League Semifinal And Proves He Was Money Well Spent

Kevin De Bruyne Sends Manchester City To Champions League Semifinal And Proves He Was Money Well Spent

My piece for RantSports on Kevin De Bruyne’s impact at Manchester City.

Manchester City may not have expected this in their wildest dreams when they signed Kevin De Bruyne.

The Belgian attacking midfielder was the difference-maker in the English club’s quarterfinal Champions League tie against Paris Saint-Germain. The battle of the two nouveau-riche clubs trying to break into the European elite didn’t produce the highest quality football throughout, but City will feel their expenditure has been vindicated thanks to De Bruyne’s impact.

The former Wolfsburg man was the subject of transfer speculation during the summer of 2015. Manchester City were linked with the 24-year-old the most and finally got their man at the end of the transfer window. The reported fee of £50 million was high despite De Bruyne’s excellent displays in the Bundesliga during the 2014-15 campaign.

 De Bruyne has scored 15 goals and added 12 assists in all competitions for City this season. Those goals, and assists, played an important role in City’s march to the Capital One Cup trophy and he’s carried that impact to Europe. Many of City’s best performances this season have come with De Bruyne on the pitch.

The Citizens have disappointed in the league this season, but that has only solidified how important De Bruyne has been. City played seven Premier League games while he was out with injury and had four losses, two wins and a draw. Those results effectively knocked them out of the running for the title and left them clinging to the final Champions League spot. De Bruyne’s return at the beginning of April has seen City pick up two consecutive games for the first time since October. That’s no coincidence.

If there were any doubts about how De Bruyne would perform back in the Premier League they have all been dispelled. His time at Chelsea saw him loaned to Werder Bremen just a few months after signing before eventually leaving permanently only half a season into Jose Mourinho‘s second stint in charge at the club. Those who questioned Mourinho’s decision to let De Bruyne leave without giving him a proper chance will now feel vindicated.

The former Wolfsburg man has undoubtedly been more important to City’s attacking potency than David Silva, Yaya Toure and fellow big-money signing Raheem Sterling. The statistics back that up during City’s poor spell in the Premier League, and De Bruyne’s two performances against PSG add further credence to that argument.

De Bruyne has provided the clinical edge in front of goal that both Silva and Sterling lack. He’s certainly bested Toure in both the goals and assists department. Only Sterling matches him when it comes to assists, equaling his 12. One could argue that, given their importance, his two goals against PSG could have been the only for his club yet he would still surpass his teammates.

Manchester City now get a chance to prepare for their first Champions League semifinals. With De Bruyne leading the way they will feel that a place in the final is a possibility. That alone makes him well worth all that money spent.

Does Manchester City and Liverpool’s European form suggest better times on the continent? | The Boot Room

Does Manchester City and Liverpool’s European form suggest better times on the continent? | The Boot Room

My piece on the Premier League’s possible chances in Europe next season.

 

Liverpool and Manchester City, despite their respective malaise in the Premier League, carry the torch for English football in Europe.

As things stand, the Reds and the Citizens are in good positions in their respective ties against Borussia Dortmund and Paris Saint-Germain. The French and German squads are the favorites but will be disappointed after the first leg. Both sides gave up crucial away goals at home, with PSG in a particularly worrisome position having let in two goals. If neither side is able to turn things around then the Premier League will have semifinalists in both the Europa League and the Champions League.

Despite the strong position of both clubs, questions could be raised over whether this resurgence is a sign that English football is on the rise again, or that Premier League clubs will continue to struggle on the continent again next campaign.

The Premier League’s European performances in previous seasons means Liverpool’s and City’s European runs are somewhat surprising.

The fact that it’s these teams in particular makes it even more of a shock. Liverpool and City are enduring poor domestic campaigns, with the Reds unlikely to get a Champions League spot and City, expected to fight for the title when the season began, fighting to stay in the Champions League positions.

One could say that both clubs are in transition, though Manchester City’s is certainly self-inflicted. Liverpool benefited from a managerial change midway through the season actually and it’s unlikely they would be here without Jurgen Klopp. City announced the impending arrival of Pep Guardiola and that has left his predecessor, Manuel Pellegrini, trying to keep the ship afloat until the summer. Still, both teams are on the verge of making it to European semifinals.

Liverpool made their way to this stage by topping their group undefeated, two wins and four draws did little to excite, before narrowly edging German side Augsburg in the round of 32. Their Round of 16 game tie against Manchester United suggested they may yet make a mark on the tournament. Tournament favorites, Borussia Dortmund, would have been forgiven for being a bit nonchalant upon facing their second English side after brushing aside Tottenham. Even with Klopp, their former manager, in charge Dortmund would expect to progress.

Manchester City continue to wobble domestically but finally found some luck in Europe this season. The Citizens topped their group that included Juventus and got one of the easier Round of 16 draws in Dynamo Kyiv. A tie against fellow nouveau riche side, PSG, was not ideal given the French Champions defeat of Chelsea in the previous round. Two goals in Paris means City just need some level of defensive fortitude to progress. Good luck with that.

Should they both progress, the bonus for the Premier League is that there will be more distance between themselves and the Serie A in UEFA’s coefficient rankings. The Premier League’s hallowed fourth spot in the competition was already safe as these sides have gone further than any Italian team. A trip to the semifinals would make it a very good year for the Premier League. It may just be the beginning. Or not.

The Premier League’s presence in Europe next season will be different.

Current league leaders, Leicester City, will almost certainly join the Champions League party with Tottenham likely to join them. Arsenal look set to continue their under-performance on Europe’s grandest stage as well but there’s no telling which Manchester club, or West Ham, will be fourth. Should Liverpool pull off a shocker and win the Europa League then they too will be in the Champions League.  Manchester City won the Capital One Cup but if they get a Champions League spot then their place in the Europa League could go to any one of West Ham, Stoke City, Southampton, Liverpool or, quite incredibly, Chelsea depending on how those sides finish in the league. There’s also the small matter of the FA Cup winner entering the Europa League as well, with Crystal PalaceEverton and Watford joining either Manchester United or West Ham in the battle to entertain in Europe next season.

Such a wide array of options means the likes of Pep Guardiola, Jurgen Klopp, Claudio Ranieri, Mauricio Pochettino, Slaven Bilic, Arsene Wenger, Alan Pardew, Roberto Martinez, Quique Sanchez Flores or, least likely, Antonio Conte could be leading out Premier League teams next season.

Ranieri, Pochettino and Wenger seem assured places but the remaining pool of candidates for either European competition is intriguing. One would think that the Premier League has a chance of replicating, or surpassing, this season’s current European performances.

Manchester City and Liverpool finish their European ties on Tuesday and Thursday of next week. A trip to the semifinals for either Premier League side might be strange now but it could become a regular occurrence starting next season. One thing is for certain. The Premier League will continue to entertain in Europe.

PSG v Manchester City emblematic of how Gulf rivals are fuelling football | David Conn | Football | The Guardian

PSG v Manchester City emblematic of how Gulf rivals are fuelling football | David Conn | Football | The Guardian

Really great read here. Which one of these teams will join the European elite first? I guess one could say whoever got to the semifinals after this tie. PSG has the edge given their utter domination of French football along with steady improvements in Europe.