Pep Guardiola has already shown Man City the best way to overcome Champions League heartbreak
This season Manchester City have arguably played the best football of Pep Guardiola’s six-season reign, but soon that may count for very little.
Following Wednesday’s heartbreaking exit from the Champions League at the hands of comeback specialists Real Madrid, City now face the very real prospect of ending the campaign without any silverware to show for their brilliance. Not since 2016-17 – Guardiola’s first season at the club which was accepted as a season of transition – have City endured a trophyless campaign.
Following elimination from the Carabao Cup in October, defeat in the FA Cup semi-final last month and now more European disappointment, the Premier League is City’s only chance of silverware. It’s a unique situation for Guardiola’s side in the sense that they have never entered the final few weeks of the season with their sole-trophy hopes hanging in the balance.
In 2016-17, FA Cup semi-final defeat effectively ended City’s season in April, while the league triumphs of 2018, 2019 and 2021 were all accompanied by League Cup victories earlier in the calendar. Despite facing unchartered waters, there is something that City can repeat – from the 2018-19 campaign to be precise – that could help see them over the line in the current Premier League title race.
With four games left to play, City sit one point above Liverpool at the top of the table. Win all four and City will win the title with a points total of 95, regardless of what Jurgen Klopp’s side do.
However, given the physically, mentally and emotionally draining nature of Wednesday’s Champions League exit, that is a task easier said than done. It has been done before though. In April 2019 City suffered another painful European elimination, perhaps one even more devastating than this one. Despite beating Tottenham 4-3 in the second leg of the Champions League quarter-final tie, the Blues went out on away goals. The memories of Raheem Sterling’s would-be last-minute goal being ruled out by the VAR still haunt City fans.
But like now, City had to quickly pick themselves up and get on with the task at hand. They were locked into the closest title race of all time, with Liverpool two points clear at the top of the table (having played a game more) when City kicked off against their European tormenters Spurs.
Less than 72 hours after suffering the most intense heartache, Phil Foden scored the only goal of the game as City claimed a 1-0 win. In the weeks that followed, City beat Manchester United, Burnley, Leicester and Brighton to complete a 14-game winning run and win the title by a point.
This year, City must do that but in far from ideal circumstances. Whereas in 2019 they had a week between the majority of their final games, this time around they must play four games in two weeks. Players are dropping like flies with injuries, and Liverpool are enjoying an excellent vein of form.
City must beat Newcastle, Wolves, West Ham and Aston Villa, or Liverpool could snatch away their only trophy hope. But as they showed three years ago, if there is a team that can quickly haul themselves out from the depths of despair, it is City.