Manchester City Have No Excuse for Champions League Failure This Year

Nick Miller@NickMiller79Featured ColumnistSeptember 17, 2014

Manchester City head coach Manuel Pellegrini, center, instructs his team during a training session ahead of Wednesday's Champions League group E soccer match between FC Bayern Munich and Manchester City, in Munich, southern Germany, Tuesday, Sept. 16, 2014. (AP Photo/Matthias Schrader)
Matthias Schrader/Associated Press

Manchester City's fourth Champions League campaign begins on Wednesday night and once again they have, to say the least, a pretty tough task.

This will be the third time in those four years that they will face Bayern Munich in the group stage, and in the one year they managed to avoid the Bavarian giants, they were drawn with Real Madrid, Borussia Dortmund and Ajax. They have, to put it lightly, perhaps not enjoyed the best of luck with their draws.

However, for a team as talented as City's and, yes, as expensively-assembled as theirs, a best showing of the first knockout round, achieved last year when they were eliminated by Barcelona, is not good enough.

And those at the club seem to recognise this. James Milner, quoted by the Daily Telegraph, said this week:

Being the club that we are, and with the players that we have, winning it (Champions League) is the ultimate aim.

There are a lot of games we've played now, a lot that we have learned over the years we've been in it and we now want to prove ourselves on the European stage.

I believe we have a good enough team to do that, so that's the aim, to have a successful Champions League.

This year, they have no excuse for any underperformance. Before, the standard explanation for being overwhelmed by more established opponents was European inexperience, or perhaps Roberto Mancini's rather questionable record in the Champions League. Not this year, though. The team, the players and the manager all have plenty of top-level experience under their collective belts.

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If we are to take what could loosely be described as City's first-choice XI (for the sake of argument; Hart, Zabaleta, Kompany, Mangala, Clichy, Fernando, Toure, Nasri, Silva, Aguero, Jovetic), then they have 349 Champions League appearances between them, eight of those players have 20 or more and two over 50.

The least-experienced is Jovetic, with nine, and he would have many more under his belt were it not for injury problems. No other player has appeared in fewer than three campaigns, and every other player in their squad, bar Dedryck Boyata and third-choice 'keeper Richard Wright, has appeared in the Champions League, which includes the 78 games, 15 goals and one title that Frank Lampard has to his name.

There is, of course, a difference between individual and collective experience, but after three years in the competition, and with two domestic titles to their name, City's European nous should grow with every passing game.

It helps with this that City also have a manager well-versed in the competition, with Manuel Pellegrini beginning his sixth Champions League campaign with his fourth different club, having taken Villarreal to the semi-finals, underachieved with Real Madrid (they were eliminated in the second round) and came within a couple of Borussia Dortmund injury-time goals of reaching the semis with Malaga in 2013.

This is a team with players arguably as talented as the ones they will face against Bayern. Manuel Neuer is a superior goalkeeper to Joe Hart, while Philipp Lahm is a stronger right-back than anything City have (assuming he plays there, of course) but basically everywhere else on the pitch, the players are well-matched.

Vincent Kompany is perhaps a better central defender than any of Bayern's, Yaya Toure is more effective than Bastian Schweinsteiger, David Silva is at least comparable to Franck Ribery or Arjen Robben, even if they are different sorts of players, Samir Nasri is smarter and more experienced than Mario Gotze, Sergio Aguero is better than most strikers in the world, never mind Robert Lewandowski or anyone that Pep Guardiola can field.

Whether they will win it is another question, given the quality of teams they will have to face to go all the way and reach the final in Berlin next June, but they most certainly can.

In short, they have the talent, and they have the experience to compete with the best teams on the continent. For City, starting in Munich on Wednesday, it is time to show as much and make a serious impact on the Champions League.