Dubai: The current dynamics at all four English Premier League clubs lend themselves to another fascinating Uefa Champions League campaign, but none more so than at Manchester City.
City’s new Chilean coach Manuel Pellegrini was handpicked for his impressive track record of managing mediocre Spanish teams through to the later stages of the European showpiece.
He led Villarreal to the semi-finals in 2006 and Malaga to the quarter-finals last year to become the first coach to take two different clubs to the last eight and beyond in their debut Champions League seasons.
City have the advantage of not being as new to the competition as Pellegrini’s former clubs, but under their former coach Roberto Mancini, they failed to make it past the group stages of the tournament in two appearances.
That — along with an otherwise trophy-less season last year — was ultimately the Italian’s undoing as the club’s Abu Dhabi owners, having won everything else since their 2008 takeover, sought success on the continent to widen their brand’s appeal.
So much emphasis has now been seemingly placed on Europe with Pellegrini’s tailored appointment, that whatever he has or hasn’t done in City’s opening four league games — two wins, a draw and a loss — could be reset with the start of a solid run on the continent.
Looking at Pellegrini’s past promise, City fans can rightfully feel hopeful. But should the Chilean’s European reign start slowly, questions will naturally revolve around the logic of his appointment. If he fails in Europe, a competition for which he was essentially headhunted, confidence for other formats could tumble.
It certainly won’t be easy. City struggled with three draws and three losses against Spain’s Real Madrid, the Netherlands’ Ajax and Germany’s Borussia Dortmund to finish bottom of their group last season. The season before that they missed out on qualification by just a point despite three wins, two losses and a draw in a group with Italy’s Napoli, Germany’s Bayern Munich and Spain’s Villarreal.
This season they face what seems like much easier competition as, despite the exception of defending champions Bayern Munich, they have also drawn Russia’s CSKA Moscow and the Czech Republic’s Viktoria Plzen.
Tuesday’s away tie at the relatively unknown Plzen — who failed to progress beyond the group stage in their only other Champions League appearance in 2011/12 — seems like the ideal place to start. But, as only Pellegrini can vouch, having masterminded a few shocks himself, underestimating the underdogs could prove fatal.