How Manchester City can return to the Champions League final in 2022
Making a Champions League final is no easy task. Coming back after suffering a loss on the biggest stage, arguably the most demoralizing loss possible in club football, is even more difficult. Since 1999-2000, only three defeated finalists have reached the final again the following season, demonstrating that Liverpool’s buyout in 2018-19 was the exception, not the rule.
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Bayern Munich also won the title a year after a shocking final loss to Chelsea at home in Munich in 2012 after being a big favorite, a historic example Manchester City fans can look on with optimism. However, not all of these stories have a fairytale ending. Valencia were the first of those clubs to return the following season and were quickly beaten again, this time on penalties by Bayern in 2000.
Although not in consecutive seasons, Atlético Madrid have had their hearts pulled out of their chests twice in three European finals by arch rivals Real Madrid, the first with a tying save before conceding. three in overtime, the second on penalties in 2016. All this proves the biggest point of the Champions League: it is above all a cruel, ruthless competition. If you have a chance on the biggest club football stage, you better take it, because second chances are rare.
For all the work that went into City, the biggest sporting project ever attempted on English soil, it took 13 years to reach this stadium just once. City missed their chance and fans will live with that pain until the club find their way back to the final. History is against City, but if one team is capable of being the fourth losing finalist of this century to return, it could very well be the Sky Blues.
City’s summer will be dominated by transfer talks, mostly over the club’s new striker. Granted, this will be a huge moment for the club management moving forward, but even if City do manage to bring in either Erling Haaland or Harry Kane, that signing doesn’t come with a guarantee of a return to the final. The quality or depth of the squad has never been the issue: City have arguably had the deepest and most talented team in English and world football on paper in recent seasons. Adding another player won’t instantly make City unstoppable.
First and foremost, City need to retain the steel that led them to this season’s final. In times of tension, leaders like Rúben Dias and Kevin De Bruyne will need to give this team the backbone to beat some of the best in Europe. For years, City have struggled at times to show leadership and react to adversity, but City have rarely looked panicked this season as in the past. Then the team has to find a way to score against low blocks.
This is the predominant way to succeed against Pep Guardiola’s teams. Thomas Tuchel stayed true to his guns, organized his defense and absolutely crossed paths with some of the best coaches in Europe namely Diego Simeone, Zinedine Zidane and Guardiola. Perhaps a true number nine will be the catalyst City need to start stopping teams like Chelsea, but tactically there is still a long way to go.
Finally, Guardiola must admit his mistakes and learn from them. Despite the change in tactics against Tottenham, Lyon and now Chelsea, which directly resulted in shock defeats, he continues to make the same mistake. I believe it comes from a place of ego, which he may have earned as the greatest coach in the world, but even Pep has to take a step back and recognize that trying to ‘surpass the genius’ of the world. The opposition distracts players from their tactics, and this directly caused City’s loss to inferior teams.
City have better players than the teams that knocked them out, but their manager can’t continue to get in the way if City are to come back and redeem themselves on the bigger stage. Guardiola is without a doubt one of the greatest footballing minds of all time, and he has proven time and time again that he can innovate. Continuing to do so in the greatest moments to prove a point, even though he has a habit of backfiring on this team, could however be the biggest danger City will face. If all of those ingredients come together, maybe, just maybe, City can defy the odds and come back to the greatest club soccer game ever.