Self belief, sighs of relief, old scores to settle and some twists of transfer irony, the Champions League draw had it all and more for Manchester City.
As ever, City have one of the most challenging of the eight groups, but at least it doesn’t involve the monotony of encounters with Bayern Munich for a fourth time in five seasons, or hostilities with the malignant Muscovites of CSKA for a third consecutive campaign.
The glorious splendour of Seville awaits City’s travelling support in a perhaps not-so-sunny Spain on 3rd November, along with trips to see the Old Lady of Italian football and some historical German giants who double up as Scrabble champions.
Juventus, Sevilla and Borussia Munchengladbach (or Mönchengladbach for the umlaut purists) lie ahead for Manuel Pellegrini’s men, as a rejuvenated and up-skilled City seek to progress deep into the heart of European football’s top competition.
Frustrating but ultimately fruitful, the summer transfer window will close on Tuesday with the Etihad outfit stronger than ever before.
The painfully protracted Kevin De Bruyne saga is finally, finally drawing to a successful £50m+ conclusion, and the recruitment of Nicolas Otamendi, Raheem Sterling, Fabian Delph and a host of young upcoming talent, means City are ready to mix it with Europe’s elite.
The irony of the flame haired (or if you insist – ginger) Belgian’s arrival from the Bundesliga, means a big boost to Manchester United’s CL aspirations, who have drawn KDB’s soon-to-be ex-employers at Wolfsburg.
Conversely, the sour-faced, putrid Portuguese manager at Chelsea could do City a Champions League favour, with a £70m+ swoop for the highly prized Paul Pogba of Juventus.
That said, Pogba – a City transfer target earlier in the summer – would hinder City’s Premier League hopes and, perhaps even CL ambitions, later in the knockout stages.
Undoubtedly a world class talent, City would’ve loved to have had PPI (Paul Pogba Investment) but it wasn’t to be.
Nonetheless, with City’s new found transfer riches, the Sky Blues are more than capable of dislodging Chelski and winning a third domestic title in three years. One wonders how the deluded writers at the official Chelsea website would report such an auspicious event?
Turin is never an easy place for an away win and City will be looking to make it third time lucky after losing 2-0 in 1976, and drawing 1-1 in 2010.
Having won the 1st leg 1-0 at Maine Road with a Brian Kidd goal, City lost 2-1 on aggregate in the old UEFA Cup, with Juventus going on to win the trophy.
Two 1-1 draws in the Europa League group stage in 2010 saw City progress to the knockout rounds, whereas Juventus exited.
The re-match with Borussia evokes painful memories of a 4-2 aggregate loss in the UEFA Cup quarter finals in 1978/79, City crashing out 3-1 in Germany after a 1-1 stalemate in Manchester.
It was all the more disappointing because City had smashed Italian giants AC Milan 5-2 over two legs in the previous round. The 1st leg 2-2 draw at the San Siro is one of the most iconic matches in City’s history on the European stage.
Thick fog, firecrackers, smoke and a hostile capacity crowd counted for nothing on the Wednesday evening as the match had to be postponed. The re-arranged game, played at lunchtime in a half empty stadium (many of the Milan fans had to go to work) saw City leading 2-0, before being pegged back for the draw.
A quarter final berth this time around, would represent City’s best ever showing in a competition that the club has yet to master.
Years of alleged dodgy dealing within UEFA, have left a huge swathe of City supporters suspicious and alienated from European football’s major showpiece.
Hardly surprising, given that it emanates from the architects of the nefarious Financial Fair Play policy. The fans and the club have good reason to question the integrity of UEFA on a multitude of levels.
Being crowned Champions of Europe would be the pinnacle of City’s achievements, and a handsome return on investment for Sheikh Mansour.
Despite what is looking like a sound £150m spend this summer, questions remain as to whether City are yet capable of occupying the best seat at the Champions League feast.
A ‘triple crown’ of PL glories is far more achievable in the short term, starting with a record-breaking 10th consecutive league win.
An imperious City – the only team left with a 100% PL success rate after three games – must beware of a sting in the tail from an unbeaten Watford.
With no wins, but three draws, the Hornets are a resilient swarm who offer exactly the type of unforeseen threat which derailed City’s title defence last season.
If Pellegrini’s men have this down as an easy three-pointer prior to the international break, they should rewind to Stoke’s visit to the Etihad 364-days-ago.
A shock 1-0 reverse, later compounded by lacklustre home draws against Burnley and Hull City, cost City seven crucial home points.
Equally, City might care to remind themselves of having to comeback from a 2-0 deficit, before eventually overcoming Watford 4-2 in a 4th Round FA Cup tie in 2014.
On January 5th, 2013 a certain just-turned 17 year old, Marcos ‘Rony’ Lopes, became City’s youngest ever goal scorer in first class football when he netted against Watford.
How ironic that the Portuguese attacking midfielder departs the Etihad for an £8m switch to AS Monaco, just 24 hours before his first ‘victim’ returns to the scene.
Lopes’ departure is lamented by many City fans, keen to see the City Football Academy start to bear sweet and lasting fruit.
Academy ‘product’ Jason Denayer, fresh from signing a new five-year contract, finds himself being loaned out to Galatasaray in Turkey.
The 20-year old Belgian international is a solid prospect and another season of first team action – even Champions League exposure – can’t harm his chances of eventual success at the Etihad.
A training ground injury to Wilfried Bony could see Kelechi Inheanacho make his PL debut off the bench tomorrow – so there’s evidence to ponder for those who continue to doubt the CFA.
Lest anyone forget, Sheikh Mansour and City Chairman, Khaldoon Al Mubarak don’t do window dressing – especially not at £200m+. Why indulge in such a pursuit if they don’t intend to optimise it for decades to come?
And with just 4-days left of this infernal transfer window, there should be a willingness to acknowledge the ‘achievements’ of an oft maligned City, Director of Football, Txiki Begiristain.
With De Bruyne beetling over to Manchester from Wolfsburg’s Volkswagen Arena, Txiki has made good on Khaldoon’s pledge to recruit ‘high quality’ players to make City ‘stronger.’
KDB and Raheem Sterling add to a team that has topped the PL goalscoring charts in the past two season. Nicolas Otamendi – arguably the most effective defender in La Liga last year – brings a new dimension to an already much improved defensive unit.
Fabian Delph at just £8m and 25-years of age, could emerge as an understated asset in City’s midfield. The recruitment of young and upcoming talents Enes Unal, Patrick Roberts, Aleix Garcia and David Faupala can only strengthen the bank of talent at the CFA – or being loaned out for senior level experience.
With sources inside City tonight revealing to Read But Never Red that the De Bruyne ‘deal is now done’ it could spare City fans having to listen to Sky Sports News HQ’s Jim ‘Yellow Tie’ White, as he takes his strangulated Scottish accent up a couple of octaves on deadline day.
But who knows Txiki may not have finished?
Pogba looks likely to be the one who ‘got away’ but Begiristain will have presided over eight new summer signings when the De Bruyne deal is officially announced. Whether it rises to 9 or 10 before next Tuesday evening remains to be seen.
Whatever the number, City need it to be 10/10 on the pitch by 5 o’clock Saturday night.
By David Walker
This dedication lark is getting out of hand – but sod it, it’s my blog so…
Dedicated to my beautiful, blonde, blue-eyed City chick, Debi – My Little Lady – who was daft enough to marry me 30 years ago on August 31st, 1985.
www.readbutneverred.com @ReadButNeverRed @djwskyblu