It’s all been building up to this. Since the takeover of Manchester City by Sheikh Mansour in 2008, winning the Champions League has been top of the club’s agenda.
It’s taken a lot longer than many expected for the opportunity to present itself, but tomorrow night City face their date with destiny — the Champions League final against Chelsea in Porto.
On paper, City shouldn’t have too much to fear. They are the favorites to win the match according to the Champions League odds, and with the Premier League title already in their back pockets, confidence will be high among coach Pep Guardiola’s squad. There is also the fact that opponents Chelsea have stuttered somewhat towards the end of the season, losing to Leicester City in the FA Cup final, and only narrowly making it into the top four after defeat to Aston Villa on the final day of the season.
The only doubt lies in whether Guardiola and his team will suffer from the pressure on their shoulders to deliver this seismic moment for the club.
While City have been good this season, they haven’t matched the standard of their previous two title-winning campaigns under Guardiola, and for that reason, there are cracks that can be exploited in Porto tomorrow night.
Indeed, Chelsea and coach Thomas Tuchel have already got the better of City on two occasions this season, first in the FA Cup semi-final, where the Blues ran out 1-0 winners, and then again in the Premier League when Chelsea came from behind to win 2-1 at the Etihad Stadium.
It’s hard to know how much bearing those results will have on the Champions League final, but it’s certainly enough to plant some seeds of doubt among City’s supporters.
In each of those two games, Tuchel got the better of Guardiola tactically, and not many coaches are able to do that once in their careers, let alone twice in the space of a few weeks.
But you wouldn’t expect the former Barcelona and Bayern Munich boss to be fazed, indeed he will probably relish the challenge of going up against Tuchel once again, with the biggest prize of all on the line.
Guardiola must put trust in the players that have brought him this far. On paper, City’s starting eleven is significantly stronger than Chelsea, and assuming nerves don’t get the better of the Premier League champions on Saturday, they should be able to get one over on Tuchel and his team.
But in any major final, form and superiority on paper often go out the window. Indeed, Chelsea were victims of this themselves in the FA Cup final, where Leicester upset the odds to lift the trophy. The Blues will be confident that they can do similar to Manchester City, and while it may be discounted by many in the Man City v Chelsea odds, they’ll be motivated by the shimmering prospect of lifting the European Cup at the end of the night.
That said, it seems as though it’s written in the stars for City to win the Champions League this season. After almost being banned from the competition last year for Financial Fair Play breaches, it would be a hugely satisfying moment for the club’s hierarchy if they were to win it.
For Guardiola too, it will be the defining moment of his tenure at the club, the achievement that all other achievements were building up to. They’ll take some stopping in Porto on Saturday night, that’s for sure.