When Manchester City visit Real Madrid on February 26 for their first knockout game in this season’s UEFA Champions League, there will be 13 titles between them — all the hosts’.
It’s a stat City would be keenly aware of, a stark reminder that they have more to lose. If that wasn’t enough incentive for City — pretty much England’s dominant side ever since being injected with Emirati wealth, but very much an also-ran in Europe — the ban handed them by European football’s governing body should leave little excuse not to give it all at the Santiago Bernabeu.
UEFA’s Adjudicatory Chamber announced on Friday that the reigning Premier League champions will be excluded from the next two seasons of the Champions League and have also been fined €30 million for “overstating its sponsorship revenue in its accounts” and failing “to cooperate in the investigation.”
“For what has just happened,” Zinedine Zidane, manager of Madrid, says of City, “their motivation will be immense.”
And it will be, indeed, for — pending the outcome of City’s appeal of the verdict — this could well be the club’s last chance till the 2022/23 campaign to prove they’re actually capable of breaking through that thick European barrier even Guardiola’s sharpest wits have failed to crack thus far.
But while there remains everything for City to play for in Europe, there is — as things stand — nothing on offer in the Premier League. The title, City’s prized possession over the last two seasons, is set to make the short trip across the North-West to Merseyside, with majestic Liverpool just five wins away from glory and the Citizens a whopping 25 points behind.
They’d likely finish second, anyway, but it wouldn’t matter should the UEFA ban be upheld. How City approach the remaining 13 league games would matter, however, likely setting the tone for how they’d fare while the freeze lasts — if it lasts.
NY Frimpong — Daily Mail GH