Man City maintained their 100% Champions League record with a routine victory over Feyenoord last week and can now look forward to the knockout stages. As group winners they should secure a favourable draw and will likely be favourites to progress to the quarter-finals. Despite a fabulous level of investment under Sheikh Mansour, two Premier League titles and an FA Cup, they have only ever gone past the last 16 once. That was in 2015-16, when they lost to eventual champions Real Madrid in the semi-final, but it must be a source of disappointment for the benevolent sheikh. However, this looks like it could finally be City’s year as they are purring under Pep Guardiola and playing sensational football.
Real were installed as pre-season favourites after becoming the first team to win the Champions League twice in a row. They are bidding to make it three on the bounce this year but they lost 3-1 to Tottenham at Wembley and finished second in their group. Their domestic form is poor and they are well off the pace set by Barcelona in La Liga, so their star has waned and the odds have drifted. Most bookmakers had Barca and Bayern Munich level with Real or not far behind in the pre-season lines, but those two have also drifted in recent months. Bayern were humbled by PSG in their group, while Barcelona have not been at their imperious best.
It could be seen as a changing of the guard in European football as the grand dames have been usurped by the nouveau riche – in the betting odds at least. PSG, bankrolled by a similarly generous group of wealthy Arabs, are now the outright favourites to win the Champions League. They too have never made it past the semi-finals of the competition, but that 3-0 victory over Bayern was seen as symbolic. PSG really ramped up their spending this summer, when they more than doubled the world record to activate Neymar’s release clause and bring him to the Parc des Princes. They followed it up with the signing of Kylian Mbappé, who will become the world’s second most expensive player, and they have assembled a terrifying attack.
However, City should fear no one. They are still unbeaten in the Premier League and have opened up an eight-point lead over Man Utd, having won 11 and drawn one of 12 games. Over in Italy, Napoli are similarly dominant and still unbeaten in Serie A. City beat them home and away and beat them well. Check out a Ladbrokes review and get the best odds available and you will note that Man City are now second favourites to win the Champions League at 9/2. That is also symbolic, and Guardiola’s men have the ability to justify it.
Their forwards are all on fire, while the defence has improved dramatically this season, perhaps because of the presence of Ederson between the sticks or the influence of Guardiola as a nurturer of talent. But the key advantage City have over any other team in the world is the creativity in midfield. Guardiola’s triumphs at Barcelona were founded on the talents of Xavi and Andres Iniesta, who would destroy teams with their intelligence in deep positions, and he is turning Kevin De Bruyne and David Silva into a similarly fearsome duo. They lead the Premier League for assists and are both relishing deeper roles that see them given more time on the ball and the ability to pick out runners with incisive forward passes. With those two teeing up a plethora of in-form forwards, Fernandinho remaining disciplined and the defence keeping plenty of clean sheets, there is every reason to think this could be the year City make the transition from very good team to great team.