Manchester City Are Favourites to Win the Champions League. but Should They Be?
Wednesday, 17 July, 2019 - 06:15
Manchester City celebrate winning last season’s FA Cup following their capture of the Premier League title and the League Cup. Photograph: Neil Hall/EPA
London - Paul Wilson
The second week of Wimbledon is probably far too early to be thinking about football and what may happen at the business end of next season, unless you happen to be an ante-post gambler looking for some value in the long-term market before the competitions get under way.
In which case you may be disappointed and surprised to find Manchester City priced as low as 4-1 to win the Champions League next season. Most bookmakers and betting exchanges have the English champions as clear favourites, with Barcelona offered at around 6-1 and Liverpool, Real Madrid and Juventus a little further out.
On the face of it this seems surprising. Manchester City have yet to make an appearance in a Champions League final whereas Liverpool made it to the past two and managed to add a sixth European Cup to their impressive collection at the beginning of June. What is it about City that the bookies fear, apart from the evident suspicion that a lot of English money will be backing them on the strength of their domestic treble last season?
Although it could be argued the unprecedented feat established Pep Guardiola’s side as the most formidable in the country, it could also be pointed out that the title was won by a single point ahead of Liverpool, and when City went head-to-head with their north-west rivals in the Champions League two seasons ago the outcome was emphatically in the Merseyside club’s favour.
Guardiola is regarded as the brightest coach around and when Rodri turned up at the Etihad from Atlético Madrid last week he became simply the latest in a long line of elite players to describe in glowing terms the honour of working with the brains behind the marvellous Barcelona teams of a decade ago. Yet though City hired their manager on the basis of his European expertise his last Champions League final was in 2011.
Jürgen Klopp has been to three finals since then, even if he did end up on the losing side in two of them. Few would argue with Rodri’s bold claim that Manchester City are amongst the most feared teams in Europe, possibly in the top two or three, though even City’s record capture admitted that Liverpool were up there too. In terms of the fear factor, in fact, especially after what happened to Barcelona at Anfield in May, Klopp’s Liverpool must now be out on their own as opponents even the leading lights of Europe would wish to avoid.
It is not the case either that Europe will necessarily be dominated again by English teams. Anyone with any sense would wait and see how Barcelona and Real Madrid strengthen before parting with a sizeable chunk of money on Champions League betting. Barcelona are bound to be improved if they ever get the Antoine Griezmann deal over the line, not to mention the possible return of Neymar, while Real Madrid with Eden Hazard and maybe the odd midfield reinforcement could be a different proposition from last season with Zinedine Zidane back in charge.
Perhaps the bookies feel punters might conclude that City will be concentrating on the Champions League, going all out to fill the one gap in their trophy cupboard in the same way that Liverpool simply have to be prioritising the league title after a 30-year hiatus. It is a reasonable supposition but football does not yet work in such a neat and predictable manner, especially when Premier League teams are involved.
It is possible that City’s billing as Champions League favourites reflects their go-to status among the European elite. They have established themselves as serial trophy winners, they have the coach and the players in place with the money and the knowhow to strengthen the side a little more before the end of the transfer window. They are smooth operators, smoother than even their Spanish rivals over the past year or so, and at the rate of improvement they have shown in the past three seasons it can be only a matter of time before their conquest of Europe is complete.
That’s the theory, anyway. In England at least, Klopp and his players are there to disprove it. One would hesitate to describe Liverpool and their manager as smooth operators in the same way as City – there is something about Klopp that not only enjoys going against the grain but appears to find it productive – but the bottom line is that the rate of improvement on Merseyside is a match for that in Manchester.
Last season the two clubs were demonstrably the best in the Premier League and few expect the coming season to be any different, so why should the story in Europe take a new twist? Perhaps Liverpool’s longer odds reflect the unlikelihood of Klopp’s team reaching a third final in succession, which would be fair enough. Yet City’s short price is unusual when the side’s experience of Champions League finals is even shorter.
The Guardian Sport