Relentless City deserve more respect in their quest for glory
When Manchester City flex their attacking muscles there isn’t a team in the world who can live with them, and that should worry the rest of the Europe, writes Pete Sharland.
Are we paying enough attention to Manchester City in the Champions League?
It may seem a ridiculous question to ask given they are one of the richest clubs in the world, with possibly the best manager at the helm but yet it is a question that begs asking.
It comes after City smashed seven goals past Schalke in an utterly ruthless performance that went to highlight the terrifying depth that Pep Guardiola is able to call upon.
Yet none of that sounds new does it?
Manchester City's Spanish manager Pep Guardiola gestures on the touchline during the UEFA Champions League round of 16 second leg football match between Manchester City and Schalke 04 at the Etihad Stadium in Manchester, north west England, on March 12, 2Getty Images
City scoring goals for fun with a plethora of different attacking options? That’s been the modus operandi ever since the Catalan set foot on these shores.
So have we started to take them for granted? This is a side that bulldozed its way to the Premier League title last year with a swagger not seen for some time.
Even at the start of this season, they would have been listed as one of the clear favourites for European glory but yet still it seems they aren’t given the recognition they deserve.
Gabriel Jesus of Manchester City celebrates with team mates after scoring the seventh goal during the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 Second Leg match between Manchester City v FC Schalke 04 at Etihad Stadium on March 12, 2019 in Manchester, England.Getty Images
Is it because of the heroics in Turin happening at the same time? Or in Paris the week before?
It’s hard to say yet City should not be slept on under any circumstances.
Yes, Schalke have been a shambles this season, they’re currently 14th in the Bundesliga, but this is the last 16 of the Champions League, and it’s simply not normal to put seven past your opponents. And the manner in which they tore Schalke to pieces was absolutely frightening; the football absolutely electric.
Raheem Sterling and Leroy Sane were simply sublime, the perfect combination of pace, cunning and vision. Some of their movement and passing was a joy to behold and it caught out the officiating on more than one occasion, twice City goals were only confirmed after a consultation with the VAR.
Manchester City's English striker Raheem Sterling (L) celebrates with Manchester City's German midfielder Leroy Sane after scoring their fourth goal during the UEFA Champions League round of 16 second leg football match between Manchester City and SchalkeGetty Images
Sterling has developed into one of the best wide players in the world scoring 18 and assisting a further 11 in the league and Europe this season, which makes the targeted criticism he receives from some sections of the media and general public even more bizarre.
Sane may not start every match, but there won’t be many defences around who fancy their chances when they see the German warming up and getting ready to come on.
Sergio Aguero of Man City celebrates after scoring their 2nd goal during the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 Second Leg match between Manchester City and FC Schalke 04 at the Etihad Stadium on March 12, 2019 in Manchester, EnglandGetty Images
There was no Fernandinho either, nor Vincent Kompany, John Stones or Benjamin Mendy.
That doesn’t matter to this City side, they are so well-drilled, and so talented, that they can adjust to more or less any situation, and they will back themselves to come up with more attacking solutions than you, every single time.
Let’s try and put this into some perspective.
This is the seventh time this season that City have scored six or more goals, that is more than Real Madrid, Barcelona, Liverpool, Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea, PSG, Atletico Madrid, Juventus and Bayern Munich have managed combined. (H/T to Daniel Storey for the stat)
They have scored 61 goals in 2019 alone, yes just in 2019.
For reference the next highest from a Premier League club is Arsenal with 29.
Along the way they have let in just eight goals.
Much has been made about the Premier League title race and whether Liverpool are “bottling” it. Nonsense. City have been a force of nature since the turn of the year, they’ve lost just once and are sweeping aside all of those before them.
Last year’s campaign was tainted by the quarter-final exit against Liverpool but this City team feel different. They have a manager who is never afraid to evolve and change things when needed, and his team reflect that perfectly.
He has wingers who can stretch teams, magicians who can control matches, and one of the most deadly penalty box strikers around.
Sergio Aguero of Manchester City celebrates scoring a penalty to make it 1-0 with David Silva and Leroy Sane of Manchester City during the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 Second Leg match between Manchester City v FC Schalke 04 at Etihad Stadium on MarcGetty Images
The defence might be a problem when they face more potent attacks, it was barely tested on Tuesday, but even then there are options. Besides, when you have an attack like City’s, you will always back yourself to outscore your opponents.
If the last 16 stage represents a changing of the guard, with three English clubs compared to (at best) one Spanish side, then it is time to consider City, as the defending champions and leaders of the Premier League, favourites for the Champions League.
Guardiola and his side are on the cusp of something historic, something unique.
There is a long way to go and a lot can very easily go wrong, but everything seems to be falling into place at exactly the right time for this City team…