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Why Win In Lisbon Shows This Year Might Be Different For Manchester City

Why Win In Lisbon Shows This Year Might Be Different For Manchester City
By Eoin Harrington Updated

The Champions League has been Manchester City's pitfall for the best part of a decade now. The biggest financial project in English football history has not led to the biggest crown in European football despite 11 years of competing in the competition.

They subtly sent a clear warning sign to the rest of Europe with a huge win against Portuguese champions Sporting Club on Tuesday night, as they went on a rout in Lisbon.

Manchester City send warning shot to Champions League rivals

Manchester City are the clear favourites for this season's Champions League, as they desperately seek to add some European silverware to go with their domestic dominance of recent years.

Last year's final defeat to Chelsea was the closest they've come, but the Champions League crown is the one thing that has evaded City in the past decade. Five Premier Leagues, two FA Cups, and six League Cups have come since the Abu Dhabi takeover in 2008, but repeated disappointment in Europe has been the story.

Perhaps the most disappointing aspect for City's fans has been the teams who have knocked them out. A leaky defence saw them go out spectacularly after a 12-goal last-16 tie with Monaco in 2016-17. They again went out on away goals to Tottenham in 2018-19.

The most ignominious defeat was that to Lyon in the bizarre one-legged knockout ties of 2019-20. Guardiola played a bizarre five at the back, despite being heavily tipped to win with ease, and it led to a 3-1 loss.

It's been a string of disappointments for the Manchester club in the Champions League, and this season has an air of "do or die" in Europe's premier competition for City.

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They sent a signal of intent with a mauling of Sporting Club in Lisbon on Tuesday. Though a 5-0 win over the Portuguese champions mightn't quite have the same seismic impact as a win over one of Europe's elite, this game subtly indicated that City are ready to take the next step in Europe.

They were, incredibly 4-0 up at half-time, as they ripped Sporting apart in an astonishing display. The current record for the biggest aggregate loss in Champions League history currently belongs to Sporting - and you wouldn't put it past City to beat that record at the rate they went on Tuesday night.

This was the kind of game that has tripped the Citizens up in recent seasons. None of Monaco, Spurs, or Lyon were ever expected to beat them in a knockout tie and yet they all found a way of doing it.

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Tuesday night's tie had the air of one that would have caught those City teams out. Sporting, though clearly the rank outsiders of the last-16, are no slouches. They comfortably won the Portuguese title last year, and knocked out an ever-improving Borussia Dortmund in the group stages.

They also come from a Portuguese league that has gone from strength to strength in recent years, with many of their recent exports becoming crucial cogs in Europe's finest teams - including City.

The ruthlessness with which City put away the Portuguese champions was a sign that they are still feeling the hurt of those shock exits of recent years. They had no interest in giving Sporting any hope of victory, and the 5-0 win was about as decisive a win as they could have had.

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There's no doubt that City will be one of the eight teams in the quarter-finals now and, even though the likes of PSG, Liverpool, and Atletico Madrid will all face tougher tasks in the last-16 if they are to join them, you sense that the City we saw on Tuesday are a very different proposition to the side that slipped up in previous years.

Another facet of the game which showed that City may be a different prospect this season was Guardiola's team selection. The Lyon five-at-the-back was not the only example of unexplained and inexplicable tinkering from the Spaniard in the Champions League.

He started last season's final with no strikers or defensive midfielders, in a decision that would ultimately cost them against Chelsea in a decider they were once again tipped to win.

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Unlike the trends of previous years, Guardiola now has the firm core of his starting 11 nailed down. We are unlikely to see any of Ederson, Kyle Walker, Ruben Dias, Joao Cancelo, Kevin de Bruyne, Rodri, Bernardo Silva, or Riyad Mahrez dropped for any big games, and Guardiola didn't hesitate in playing all eight of them in Lisbon on Tuesday.

That's without even mentioning two of City's goalscorers on Tuesday, Raheem Sterling and Phil Foden. Sterling's goal was the pick of the bunch, and Foden continues to be one of the most impressive young prospects in Europe.

Guardiola has maintained the fearful strength-in-depth of old, while making strides towards nailing down his best starting 11. The fact that they were willing to throw off the shackles so aggressively in the first-half of the first-leg is a mark that they will take no prisoners in the coming weeks.

Manchester City have unquestionably been the best team in European football for the best part of a decade now. The one thing missing has been European success - and it looks as though they are learning from past mistakes, and laying down a marker for the coming stages of the knockouts.

SEE ALSO: Eight Storylines To Look Out For In The Champions League Last 16

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