While a two-horse race for the title between Leicester City and Tottenham Hotspur continues to steal the limelight, Manchester City’s delicate balancing act between league and continental commitments has somewhat flown under the radar.
City are just four points clear of fifth-placed Manchester United in the Premier League with six games remaining. They also remain England’s last hope in Europe this season, facing Paris Saint Germain in the second leg of the Uefa Champions League quarter-final at home on Tuesday, following last week’s 2-2 away draw.
Manuel Pellegrini’s side should have the quality to compete equally on both fronts, but, as they’ve demonstrated with their under-par performances this season, it would be dangerous to presume.
With one eye on furthering their unprecedented Champions League run under Pellegrini, who is on a personal mission to make a closing statement before Pep Guardiola replaces him in the summer, City must also get a top-four finish in the Premier League table to ensure Guardiola has Champions League football next season.
Without Champions League football, City will be hamstrung in Guardiola’s first season, not just financially without the TV money – because let’s face it City can probably work around that – but also mentally.
Like Pellegrini, who was considered a bit of a guru for previously leading Villarreal to the Champions League semi-finals in 2006 and Malaga to the quarters in 2013, Guardiola – who has won it twice as a manager with Barcelona in 2009 and 2011 - has also been employed almost solely for Europe.
City have already proven they can win the Premier League, having done so most recently in 2012 and 2014, and with the current set-up they should always be there or thereabouts domestically.
But it’s Europe where the owners really want to exert themselves and having gone out and acquired an off-the-rack Champions League-winning coach and infrastructure to achieve just that, it would be pretty disappointing not to feature in next season’s tournament, and their absence may even set Guardiola’s project back by a couple of years.
In overdoing it in both competitions, City risk losing everything by getting knocked out of the Champions League latter stages and missing out on a Premier League top-four finish.
Sense would say that - given their iffy displays this season and the fact they don’t exactly have an easy run-in - they should focus on the Premier League. But they could also throw caution to the wind and go all out for Champions League glory, safe in the knowledge that victory would qualify them for next year’s tournament as holders. Who knows, they might still achieve both.
Either way, two away goals may give them advantage over PSG in the return leg on Tuesday, but it wouldn’t be the end of the world if they were to admirably fade off in Europe, and the earlier the better.