Manchester City: Are Citizens True Champions League Contenders Under Pellegrini?
Manchester City's Champions League aspirations were not impacted one way or the other by their comprehensive gutting of Newcastle in their first Premier League match under new manager Manuel Pellegrini.
But Sky Blues fans can be forgiven after such a performance for dreaming of Champions League glory given the speed and aggression Pellegrini has obviously imbued his charges with.
Supporting City, however, means washing every passion pill down with a glass of perspective.
Newcastle finished No. 16 in the Premier League table last season. The Magpies made no significant moves in the summer transfer window.
Then, on the eve of this match with City, Arsenal submitted a £10 million bid for Yohan Cabaye, per Richard Jolly of ESPNFC.com. Newcastle rejected the bid, but Cabaye's attention was distracted such that his manager Alan Pardew opted to hold him out of the match.
In other words, City played an inferior opponent at home without one of their best players. That they might have won 6-0 or even 8-0 instead of 4-0 is thus of no moment.
City got an easy result against Newcastle.
There are no sides anything like Newcastle in the Champions League.
City looked like world-beaters against Newcastle, but the world promises to send better teams to the Etihad when Champions League play begins.
Realistically, no conclusions can be reached about City's Champions League prospects until the draw takes place.
City entered each of the last two Premier League seasons with one eye on the Champions League and enormous plans, only to come up first barely and then woefully short of advancing past the group stage.
Due to UEFA's system of ranking teams based on their international performances, City entered the last two Champions League draws as underdogs and, after failing to get through the group stage twice, will do so again this time.
As such, City's past Champions League failures have a similar effect on their prospects going forward as compounding interest has against a credit card debtor. City's best chance to get an easier draw is to win some Champions League matches, but the matches they will have to win project to be awfully tough.
There are significant differences in the City side that will play in Europe this season as against the one that flopped last season.
The odd couple, a.k.a. Roberto Mancini and Mario Balotelli, have taken their antics and consequent headache inducements elsewhere.
Pellegrini spent enormous sums on midfield upgrades (Fernandinho, Jesus Navas) and first-choice strikers consigned to reserve roles in Manchester (Alvaro Negredo, Stevan Jovetic). Early returns on Fernandinho and Navas are exceptionally encouraging, per Dan Ripley of the Daily Mail.
And from the preseason friendlies through the thrashing of Newcastle, Pellegrini has proven that his promises of "attractive" football were not vows he took lightly.
Pellegrini described his style as attractive, but perhaps a better word for it would be predatory. Unlike City sides of prior seasons content to score once and call it a job done, Pellegrini seems intent on having his players pressing forward for goals whenever the opportunity presents itself.
These developments all bode well for City's Champions League potential. The best teams in the world (Bayern Munich, Real Madrid etc.) share the tendency to inflict their will on opposing sides with relentless pressure and seemingly limitless energy.
Where will Manchester City's Champions League campaign end in 2014?
Still, there is the nagging concern of City's recent Champions League past.
City harboring serious intentions to contend for a Champions League crown is a touch reminiscent of Chris Rock's famous soliloquy about the man who gets his Graduate Equivalency Degree and immediately starts spouting off about conquering college.
As Rock himself put it, "slow down."
And to those who point to the strength and depth of this City side, well, weren't both of those former City incarnations well-regarded sides of highly-paid players in their career primes? And you know how all that turned out.
Why will it be different this time?
So the answer to the question of whether City are Champions League contenders is, unfortunately, it depends.
It depends on the draw, first and foremost.
It depends on whether City will be haunted by their last two aborted campaigns in Europe.
It depends on whether their key players stay healthy. If City's first Champions League match were set for later this week, they would probably be without Vincent Kompany per Ian Ladyman of the Daily Mail. Wellness matters.
City appear to have all the pieces they need to break through to the knockout stages of Champions League play. But having the pieces on the table does not mean the puzzle gets solved.
We should probably return to this discussion after the draw is done.
Almost certainly, we will.
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