How will Manchester City cope with favourite status in Champions League final?


It’s no exaggeration to say that the upcoming Champions League final is just about the most important match in the history of the club so far. This is a chance to finally achieve that last remaining goal that City’s owners have craved so desperately since taking over nearly 15 years ago. For years, the European Cup has eluded the club, a fateful cocktail of nervousness, inspired opposition and sheer misfortune creating a mental block for the team in Europe’s premier club competition.

Not so this season. City have been sensational on their march to the final in Istanbul, competently swatting aside every challenger in a campaign defined by ruthlessness and resilience. There have been few signs of jitters from Pep Guardiola’s side this season, and the way in which they held off the challenge of Paris Saint-Germain in the semi-finals was proof that this team is doubly determined to add the Champions League to their ever-growing list of titles under the Catalan coach.

Standing in their way are Chelsea, who have surprised many with their European exploits this season. Thomas Tuchel has taken a side which looked so flaky under previous coach Frank Lampard and turned them into a dogged defensive juggernaut with an ability to overwhelm opponents on the counter attack. Aside from the fact that an all-English final adds an extra level of intrigue, it will be one of the most interesting tactical clashes we’ve seen in the Champions League final for many years.

It’s no surprise that City are the favourites to win the match in the Champions League odds, but the question lies in whether they can cope with the pressure on their shoulders, both as match favourites and as first-time pretenders to the European throne. Throughout the knockout stages, a steely determination has defined their performances, as if it was building up to this moment all along. Now that they have reached the final, it is not the time to stare wide-eyed and unmoving at the headlights.

All the near misses and injustices of past Champions League exits must be kept firmly out of City’s minds. As runaway Premier League leaders, they should have the wherewithal to see of a team battling for fourth place, but a one-off final can often see form go flying out the window. Chelsea’s recent win over City in the FA Cup semi-final will provide Tuchel’s side with a grain of confidence heading to Istanbul, and they’ll be well up for the task of upsetting the apple cart and proving the Champions League winner odds wrong.

None of that should enter City’s way of thinking in the build-up. Instead, they should take confidence from the supreme way in which they have advanced through the rounds this season — the breezy dominance against Borussia Mönchengladbach, the nous and game management against Borussia Dortmund, the focus and determination against PSG. City’s season has been a long-playing symphony building up towards a mighty crescendo — now is not the time to miss a note.

There is an inevitability about City winning in the Champions League. It will happen one day, whether it’s May 29th this year or another time in the future. The club is built for success, but no amount of money guards a team from the pressure that comes with realising such a long-held ambition. In the end, the trophy must be won, and it’s up to Guardiola and his players to go and seize that shimmering prize with both hands. Then the agony of their recent struggles in the Champions League can be let go at last.