Tonight marks the occasion where Manchester City came all so near to gracing as Liverpool play Real Madrid in the final of the Champions League.
A crazy five minutes denied City the opportunity to grace the stage in Paris as the Spanish giants came from behind to score two goals in injury time to force extra time and squash Pep Guardiola’s men in the semi-final.
That heartbreak in Madrid has now been forgotten as the Premier League title was won in dramatic style to ensure their fourth league win in five years. The domestic trophies have been sewn up during the United Arab Emirates ownership era, however, ‘ol big ears’ remains the one missing from the cabinet and that elusive target.
Runners-up to Chelsea last season and semi-finals this year you can say that the trophy is not far away, however, what will it take for City to get over the line in next season’s Champions League.
The simple answer you can throw around is luck. You need good fortune when you are playing knockout football, refereeing decisions to go in your favour, an injury-free season and most importantly form to be on your side when going into the big games.
However, certain things will help your campaign going into Europe next year. The three things that will boost their campaign when hearing the magic music on a Tuesday or Wednesday evening.
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A perfect group stage against tough opponents
The importance of a perfect/near-perfect run in the group stage is vital with both finalists benefiting from the momentum that brings into the ‘business end’ of the tournament. Liverpool and Real Madrid only lost one game between them in the group stages with the Spanish champions shocked by Moldovan debutants, Sheriff, in a shock smash and grab victory.
Although City finished top of their group, the campaign was dampened by the away defeats in Paris and Leipzig, and also conceded three goals at home to the German side. This certainly highlighted a weakness and non-fear factor for the future opponents of the Premier League champions.
The group stage can always provide tough fixtures with games against Paris Saint Germain and RB Leipzig this season, and Porto and Marseille in the campaign prior. City will be in pot one, potentially facing trips to Barcelona, Juventus, Atletico Madrid or Borussia Dortmund. A good test but one that Guardiola will fancy home and away.
A more emphasis on winning all six games should be a must and to live up to that favourites tag once and for all.
The Norwegian striker fit and in form come February 2023 will be a huge bonus as he will be needed come the knockout stages. His performances will be closely followed this year and many people will be expecting a minimum of ten goals should he remain fit for the whole campaign.
You could argue that he was the missing ingredient when analysing the two legs against Real Madrid.
The missed chances in the first leg and the lack of having a focal point at the top of the pitch to keep possession in the opponent’s half became a struggle in the second half at the Bernabeu. That inability allowed a fresh Madrid midfield to keep recycling the ball and create chances, eventually wilting the under-pressure back four that night for Rodrygo to take advantage.
Haaland has a deadly eye for goal and he would have fancied hitting the target from Phil Foden’s shot over the crossbar, Riyad Mahrez’s opportunities over the two legs or Jack Grealish’s two chances when through on goal. The same situation a year later might see fans from Manchester flocking to Istanbul in preparation for football’s final showpiece of the season.
He certainly has form in those pressured moments; the Norwegian’s pedigree in the tournament is high, scoring 21 goals in 17 appearances becoming the youngest player to reach 20 goals.
Squad depth is vitally integral to any tournament success especially playing every Saturday and midweek. City adding Haaland and Julian Alvarez, plus the further emergence of James McAtee, Cole Palmer and CJ Egan-Riley this year will enable a well-balanced squad going into all competitions.
Transfer targets in the left-back and defensive midfield positions appear to be incoming with the hierarchy drawing up a shortlist based on Premier League acquisitions. Despite the two heavily-linked targets, Marc Cucurella and Kalvin Phillips, never playing in the Champions League they will add a much-needed depth.
Holding onto players will also be key as Raheem Sterling and Oleksandr Zinchenko are both highly linked with departures with London clubs circling for their services. Their impact on the final day just shows the difference they can make on a wet night in Germany or in front of a packed house in Barcelona.
No matter what, City fans are becoming more and more excited about the Champions League music at the Etihad with the fans now dreaming of seeing their team lift the trophy next season.
Among the favourites comes an expectation, an expectation that is ever closer to becoming a reality.