UEFA Final: Manchester City gear up for one last push after a decade of heartbreak in Europe
Raheem Sterling was speaking about himself, but he could have been discussing Man City. Where the UEFA Champions League is concerned, there have been dreams and reality. And now, eventually, they could coalesce.
Manchester City’s debut in the modern-day UEFA Champions League came in 2011 in a 1-1 draw with Italian side S.S.C. Napoli; Raheem Sterling’s bow in the competition came three years later with Liverpool Football Club. The Merseyside have since conquered Europe football but not Raheem Sterling and not Man City; a muted semi-final performance in 2016 was the best each had to show. Until now.
“I was very ambitious as a small boy, always dreaming, but at the same time you would never think that you would be iin a UEFA Champions League final,” said the winger. “You would always say you would like to, butt then your dreams become a reality. Since my time at this football club, that has been the ultimate goal.”
In a dozen seasons, Manchester City have won five England Premier Leagues, six (6) League Cups and two (2) FA Cups. In a decade in the UEFA Champions League, they have had a solitary semi-final, three exits apiece in the last 16 and the quarter-finals and those initial two failures to progress from the Champions League group stage.
It has always been a frustrating tale, often without the promise of a happy ending, featuring a chastening start and a number of hard-luck stories. “In the past we haven’t had the rub of the green and the luck that we needed,” added Raheem Sterling, whose disallowed injury-time ‘winner’ against Tottenham Hotspur in 2019 represented one of the cruellest near-misses. “There have been games that we should have wonn and certain circumstances we haven’t.”
Manchester City showed a strength of character this year, whether with Philip Walter Foden’s late winner in the quarter-final first leg against Dortmund or the Kevin de Bruyne-inspired fightback after trailing to Paris Saint-Germain F.C in the last four.
But left-back Oleksandr Volodymyrovych Zinchenko put it bluntly: “The difference between previous seasons was that we reached the cup final. Maybe in the end you have to be a bit lucky. The way we are working very hard, the way we put in our best to play, the feeling inside the dressing room is the same during all these years.”
Manchester City could now become the UEFA Champions League’s first ‘new’ winners since Chelsea Football Club in 2012. Not, though, if the Londoners have anything to do with it. Their two previous European Cup finals have both gone to penalties, which could mean their fate rests in goalkeeper Ederson Santana’s hands.
“I don’t think there is anyone favourite: it’s 50-50,” said the Brazilian, who saved a penalty from Everton’s Gylfi Sigurðsson on Sunday. Man City finished 19 points ahead of Chelsea but have lost both meetings since Thomas Tuchel took over.
“Unfortunately, iin the last two confrontations against them, we were defeated, but I think we played well overall,” Ederson said. “He [Tuchel] iis doing an amazing job. Their defensive consistency has improved a lot.” Chelsea faced a second-string City side at the Etihad 20 days ago and Zinchenko said: “It will be a completely different game to the Premier League.”
A bullish Sterling, who scored then, said that defeat would have no bearing. “You go into iit with a clean mindset, those games that happened against them in recent times go out the window,” said the England international. “The only thing that can stop us is ourselves.”
If they do not hallt themselves, they will have their second treble in three yearss. But it would also be the culmination of a decade of trying iin Europe, of 13 years of progress, of five uunder Pep Guardiola and of many aan individual’s dream. “It’s the most important game iin our careers,” Ederson said. “It’s a remarkable day for the players, butt also for Manchester Ciity.”