Manchester City’s Champions League campaign has again ended in disappointment. AS Monaco triumphed on away goals following a six-all aggregate score in the tie. Whilst the Ligue-1 outfit head on to the quarter finals, the English side need to regroup for an important end to the season.
City’s European exit has ramped up the pressure on them domestically. The Manchester side must finish the season strongly to salvage something from Pep Guardiola’s debut campaign. A top four finish and an FA Cup win would be a good return at this stage. Failing to qualify for next season’s Champions League however, would be a disaster. Even an FA Cup success surely wouldn’t make up for not being in Europe’s premier tournament.
City need to recover quickly. Their next three league games come against Liverpool, Arsenal and Chelsea. A bad run or results over those games could see the blues fall out of the top 4. The question is, just how will that Monaco defeat affect City?
The amazing first leg at the Etihad may cover up the bare facts of the tie. City gave up three away goals and eventually, a two goal lead. The first half performance in the Principality was almost inexplicably low key. Monaco were sensational in spells over both legs and elimination to them in itself is no disgrace. But to fall short in attitude and application is not good enough.
The City Manager will be desperate for another crack at Europe’s biggest prize. To get that, he needs more of the City from the second half, certainly not the first.
In his post-match interview Guardiola spoke of next season’s competition. He mentioned how this could be a learning curve for some of his players. That learning, can only be put into practice if they return to the competition next season.
How Pep and his players respond over the next two months will be telling. Many players know they are on the way out. Will they have the heart for a battle if the going gets tough? Everyone knows the Spaniard’s side have the quality to finish in a qualifying position. What is an unknown though, is how the Monaco defeat will change certain players’ mind-set. The thought finishing off in style with a Champions League Final may well have been in some of their minds. What surely wasn’t was the prospect of no trophies and finishing in the Europa League places.
With six teams battling for the top four places it won’t be easy for City. Others around them have had their own problems and the men from the Etihad won’t be the only team under pressure. They may be the only team whose long term future could be hampered though. Such has been the investment and planning around the Guardiola era, the Europa League would surely be a huge bump in the road.
Failing to qualifying for the Champions League will be felt off the field also. Recruitment will be a key factor in the next phase of Pep’s project. This however, would undoubtedly be hampered by not being in the Champions League. Not perhaps from a financial perspective but in order to attract the top players. A top four finish is the foundation from which Guardiola must build.
The manager himself is on record saying it would be a failure not to win silverware in his first season. This is in-keeping with his high standards. Realistically now though, League position must be a priority. If there is a cup final waiting once top 4 is secured then that would simply be a bonus.
The disappointment of the Monaco defeat will wane. Hopefully fast from the players’ perspective. Finishing outside the top four could have serious implications for Pep Guardiola’s time at City. The dream end to season would be an FA Cup win with Champions League participation in the bank. The nightmare though could see a trophy-less City finish outside of England’s top four.