Manchester City vs Bayern Munich: The September final?
City host current Champions League holders Bayern Munich at the Etihad Stadium on Wednesday in what will be seen as the early group decider.
But, with Bayern looking to become the first side to win back-to-back Champions League titles since AC Milan in 1990 and City hoping to put their previous two nightmare CL campaigns behind them, this fixture could be repeated at the Estadio da Luz in the the final on May 24.
Both sides have begun their European campaign in impressive style. 3-0 wins for City and Bayern against Viktoria Plzen and CSKA Moscow respectively means it is all even at the top of group D ahead of Wednesday’s clash.
Under the guidance of former Champions League-winning manager Pep Guardiola this season, Bayern have a real chance of retaining their crown and becoming the first side to do so for 23 years.
The club have kept hold of all their stars during the summer and have been able to strengthen an already highly-talented squad. The arrival of midfield dynamos Mario Gotze from last season’s CL runners-up Borussia Dortmund and Thiago Alcantara from Barcelona have added extra depth to Bayern's squad which will enable them to rotate their side during the season without having to lose quality in the team.
This will mean they should have fresh legs in all competitions and could go a long way to prove that they are capable of winning every competition they feature in this season.
City fans may be thinking that the CL final is a long way away for them if their record in the competition counts for anything. The Citizens made their debut two years ago and failed to qualify from the group stages after losing out to Napoli and Bayern.
Last season many predicted City to find their feet in the competition having put their debut nerves to the back of their minds. But under the guidance of Roberto Mancini, however, the club was unable to prove their European worth and were once again knocked out at the first hurdle - finishing bottom of the group behind Borussia Dortmund, Real Madrid and Ajax.
Manuel Pellegrini, who managed Malaga in the competition last season, has taken over the City helm and will not except a group stage exit after spending over £100m in the summer.
Due to City’s dramatic rise from bottom-half Premier League side to title winners they are not helped by UEFA’s current ranking system. Having not had much European competition over the last 20 years the club have found themselves in pot three of four this season meaning they will always face an uphill battle to qualify from the group stages. They will have to do very well in the competition over the next few seasons for their UEFA ranking to improve and this unfortunate scenario to change.
But the reality that Wednesday’s fixture could be an early preview of this season’s final is a real one. So watch it carefully and see how the man-to-man battles play out as both side look to keep their winning Champions League record going.
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