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Manchester City beginning to assert their dominance in Champions League

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Sheikh Mansour's money promised a Premier League title for Manchester City, and it duly delivered, but the bigger picture has always been European football.

They haven't tasted much success in Europe, but after becoming the first team to progress through the group stage of this season's Champions League, City look a genuine threat to the elite.

The disappointment and decline of English football on the biggest stage has been well documented in recent years, with most of the blame falling on the lack of a winter break and turbulent spending.

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The spotlight has often fallen on the heavily funded Citizens, who have consistently failed to deliver when it mattered, whilst those around them similarly faltered.

The competitive nature in England can take much of the blame for the weak showing in Europe, with few sides able to assert dominance in both. However, for the first time in the Sheikh Mansour era, City seem to have found a healthy balance of life in Europe and atop the Premier League.

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To travel to a side like Sevilla, who boast one of the best home records in European football, and beat them with a starting lineup lacking Kevin De Bruyne and Sergio Aguero is a signal of strength in depth.

Their campaign started much like every other season - a disappointing performance against Juventus at home. "Same old City, always losing" was the afterthought following Alvaro Morata's late winner.

SUMMER STRENGTHENING

Premier League form for City this season has never really been in doubt, of course, with a rare defeat away at Spurs their only major blip.

However, Europe was still the ongoing problem for City.

An uncharacteristic away win against Borussia Monchengladbach saw Manuel Pellegrini's men pick up their first win through a late Aguero penalty, though injury to the Argentine against Crystal Palace in the league meant focus had to change.

League form sustained, even without their talisman, and the form in Europe had to do the same. A home tie against Sevilla saw Wilfried Bony paired with Raheem Sterling up front, and while little was offered in attacking prowess, a late De Bruyne finish secured another three points - for once, City controlled their fate comfortably in the group stage.

SQUAD DEPTH

Perhaps the Aguero injury gave Pellegrini insight into how his side can cope without their biggest goal threat. In recent seasons, City have been the victims of their own downfall - the over-reliance on Aguero, whose injuries have always been a matter of when rather than if, has consistently let them down.

But a more unified City, less reliant on starting players and more squad depth, showed their dominance in Seville. Something changed in their gameplay.

Fernando and Fernandinho, both picked ahead of De Bruyne, have always been questioned on their worth. David Silva, missing through injury, led Jesus Navas to the starting line-up on his old stomping ground.

All players who have been on the fringes of City's starting eleven in recent times, but they each showed a different side in Spain.

Navas, who set up the final goal, carried out his role brilliantly, and the work of Fernandinho and Fernando looked like the two had been playing together for years. De Bruyne, who was introduced late on, need not have played.

Vincent Kompany, who looks like a new signing, has formed solid partnerships with each of his centre-back teammates, including the very impressive Nicolas Otamendi. 

City looked sharp, solid and in sync - everything they have lacked in recent European campaigns. Sevilla were poor in contrast, but winning so comprehensively at the Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán is no mean feat. 

CHAMPIONS LEAGUE CHARACTER

Pellegrini's side have set out their stall in Europe, and much earlier than they normally do. For once, they have secured their place in the last 16 before any other side.

The progress and character in the Champions League is a signal of intent from the Premier League pace setters. 

Timing is always one of the major factors in how a team fares in the Champions League. Juventus hit form last year at the right time and kept their star players fit and reach the final, so whilst City may have hit their form early too, they must retain their most valuable assets.

An early shout for a Champions League winner is always a bold and sometimes rash move, especially with most of the big guns making light work of the group stages, but few, if any, have shown the performance levels City have.

A winner they might not be just yet, but there is certainly a Blue Moon rising in Europe. 

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Topics:
UEFA Champions League
Manchester City
Football

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