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Monday 19 August 2019

John Aldridge: 'Heat is about to be turned up on Man City and I can see Pep's men slipping up'

Read John Aldridge every week in The Herald

Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola during a press conference. Action Images via Reuters/John Sibley
Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola during a press conference. Action Images via Reuters/John Sibley

John Aldridge

MANCHESTER City have got to be feeling the heat as they sink their teeth into a month that will make or break their season and I feel a slip is coming for Pep Guardiola’s men.

On a night when three of England’s four remaining representatives in the Champions League take centre stage, I expect Liverpool to get a positive result against a Porto side they tore to shreds in last season’s competition.

The memories of Liverpool’s 5-0 win in Portugal is certain to give Jurgen Klopp’s side a huge psychological advantage this evening, but the other quarter-final between Tottenham and Manchester City is harder to call.

Even though the League Cup is already in their trophy cabinet and the FA Cup likely to follow after they cruised into the final by beating Brighton at Wembley last weekend, all the pressure is on City in the game against Tottenham. The Champions League is the competition they want and need to win.

City have never come close to winning the Champions League and have looked like rabbits in headlights when they have got into the latter stages of the competition in recent years.

They were hammered 5-1 on aggregate by Liverpool in last season’s quarter-finals and that result left a lasting scar that ensures they will not relish a rematch if the two best sides in the Premier League get through to the final in Madrid on June 1.

Yet they have big tests ahead of them before they can start thinking about an appearance in the final and history suggests the tension Guardiola and his players feel when they play on Europe’s biggest stage gets to them.

For City to become one of the true giants of the modern game, they need to win the Champions League on multiple occasions. That’s because they are still essentially a club that got lucky when a ‘sugar daddy’ rolled in to bankroll some temporary success.

When you see empty seats at the Etihad Stadium for home games and read stories suggesting that they struggled to sell out a relatively modest allocation of tickets for last weekend’s FA Cup semi-final, it serves as a reminder that this is a club that is still a minnow compared to some of their domestic and European rivals.

The money ploughed into their transfer kitty by their owners has helped to build a fantasy football team, but City will have to wait a long time before they gain the respect of clubs like Liverpool, Manchester United and even their next opponents,  Tottenham.

I admire Spurs for the way they have gone about their regeneration in recent years, building a magnificent new stadium and a fine team on a budget that is not inflated by money being injected by an owner promoting his own agenda.

That’s why I think it would be bad for the game if City win the Champions League, as it would be a triumph for a club who have been put on a pedestal by following a method Arsene Wenger correctly described as “financial doping” a few years back.

Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against City’s traditional fan base, who have been loyal to the club for many years, and I used to enjoy playing City at their own Maine Road stadium.

Yet City were never a team that would frighten you and that only changed when the money rolled in from  oil-rich owners who used an English football club they had probably barely heard of to promote tourism in their homeland.

If City are crowned as European champions, they could become a dominant force in the game, as they will use their inflated status to attract even more top players, so true football fans will not want to see that happen.

From a Liverpool perspective, I’d like to see City go through to a Champions League semi-final and play two tough matches against Juventus that could contribute to them dropping points in the Premier League.

Yet Tottenham have the ability to give them a real test in this first leg in north London and if City were to suffer a defeat, it would shake their confidence in a month that will include another game against Spurs in the Premier League.

We are about to reach crunch point in this fascinating season, with Guardiola and his players knowing all the pressure is now on them to deliver in their chase for history.

Let’s see if they can handle it.

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