What must Manchester City do to end European woes?
Manchester City had what is widely considered their best season ever last term. With the magical Pep Guardiola in charge, that was to be expected. His reputation preceded him. Still, nothing the Catalan did changed the club's fortunes on the continent. So what must Guardiola and City do to remedy the situation?
The biggest secret of success (if there is one) is to emulate those who have succeeded. It's why many competitions become copycat leagues. After Chelsea's 2016/17 title run, many Premier League clubs adopted three-at-the-back formations. Those in charge at City are on track here. They have borrowed a leaf from Barcelona by bringing in Ferran Soriano, Txiki Begiristain and Guardiola to implement a new brand of football at the Etihad Stadium.
The Citizens blew away the Premier League competition, last season. Pep's squad broke several records in the process. That success was not replicated in Europe. When the idea arose that City could be considered the best team ever in England, players like Wayne Rooney who had featured for their serial winning Mancunian neighbours, dismissed it. In his opinion, the team needed to back up its performances with major trophies home and abroad to be so classified.
Manchester City have a lot of catching up to do. Of the top six clubs in England, City is the least successful in terms of trophies won. In fact, Everton, Aston Villa and Sunderland also lead the Sky Blues.
To succeed in Europe, the Citizens will need to study winners like Real Madrid. Zinedine Zidane led the Spanish giants to a treble of consecutive Champions League trophies. The feat hadn't been achieved since Ajax and Bayern Munich each did it in the 1970s. Last season's success at the Bernabeu was particularly instructive.
The Merengues had a torrid season at home. The club was the subject of ridicule when Girona, Real Betis and Villarreal all came away from the fabled ground with three points. Hopelessly behind Barcelona and Atletico, Zidane shifted his focus to the UCL, setting everything in place to win it. Once more, he achieved his goal.
Of course, there is no guarantee any other club or even Zidane himself could replicate the strategy to perfection the way he did last term. But then what is the reason for a club registering more than 20 players for every competition? It's to chop and change when necessary and to keep the players fresh for the long haul.
Winning the Premier League is important and any success is better than none. But prioritising the UCL for City would most likely yield the desired result. Key players can be reserved for the most important games in the competition to prevent injuries and fatigue. A fresh Kevin de Bruyne, for example, could have done much better in the quarterfinal when Liverpool swept City aside.
Guardiola must also address the defence, specifically in midfield. Fernandinho is the only recognised holding mid in the team. At 33, the Brazilian is not getting any younger. His outing for Brazil at the World Cup shows his days at the top level are numbered. The club has made no move for a defensive midfielder in the transfer window. Neither Jorginho nor Riyad Mahrez will not fill this need.
A team built to win in Europe must be well-rounded with top players in every position. Fred was rumoured to be on his way to City. Now that he has become a United player, the champions must look elsewhere.
Lastly, the club hierarchy and fans must be patient. Even if Guardiola does not get it right this time around, he should still be allowed to continue. Ultimately, he will get the job done.