Ah, the sweet sound of European football is returning to Manchester. Trouble is, not for very long.
Despite fans in last week’s first knockout round fixtures behaving like pillocks, the Champions League brings with it a chance for the ardent spectators of the cream of Europe to venture further than another domestic chippie.
They bring with them cheer and good humour, as witnessed when Bayern Munich’s upbeat fans brought Manchester to a standstill for last year’s quarter-final with United.
Quite what Barcelona’s spoilt supporters will bring is another thing: they have seen more success in continental competitions than any of their major European rivals since the start of the 21st century and the slick team they adore have, certainly more recently, perhaps lacked the hunger they had a few years ago.
But they’ve been given the perfect last-16 warm up against Manchester City next Tuesday.
City, bereft of any inspiration all season apart from their painfully last-gasp qualification for the Champions League knockout stages, have no chance of progressing past them this year.
Just how does a team so lukewarm, compared to last season’s goal-scoring machine, go about plotting to score against Barcelona, the outfit possessing one of Europe’s best defences this season? That’s 13 goals in 23 league fixtures in case you were wondering, with 67 scored.
That said, a 0-0 might not be the worst result for Manuel Pellegrini’s under-firing millionaires if they can contain a resurgent Lionel Messi of late: since we entered 2015 the Argentine forward has gone to the top of La Liga’s assists chart and joined Cristiano Ronaldo on 23 league hat-tricks.
Although a goalless draw is a dangerous scoreline for the home team to take away with them, in this case it simply doesn’t matter. City’s mediocre season isn’t about to drastically improve.
So where can they improve, or how do things miraculously get better? The answer lies in their Premiership position…
Beneath City, not sure if they’re aware or not as they’ve been too busy trying to keep pace with Chelsea and not playing at all well, are a host of teams well capable of overhauling Pellegrini’s mob for a top-four berth.
Liverpool (in seventh, 10 points back) would love another crack at Europe after this year’s botched effort. Tottenham (sixth, nine behind) would chew off their arm for another bite, while Southampton (six points adrift) haven’t had a whiff of such high calibre competition for yonks.
Then there’s Arsenal (seven points) and neighbours United (five), the former qualifying every season like it’s gone out of fashion as the latter will be champing at the bit to secure a Champions League berth having missed out this season for the first time since 1995.
Finish outside the top four you see, and Pellegrini won’t be able to get out of Manchester quickly enough.
So this is why City need to forget their exalted ones’ wishes of landing a European trophy to sit alongside the elite. That, were it to happen, would be a remarkable achievement of course and one of which northern English football would be proud.
But what City really need is stability on the home front. Challenge for title after title after title. Be involved in the two English cups to the death, like in 2011, 2013 and last year. Not win title, fizzle out, win title and league cup, fizzle out. It’s getting boring, especially from a squad so talented.
Take such a mentality into Tuesday’s game and City might, just might, advance over Barcelona. The pressure is off, so are the shackles and we’re out of idioms.
But in all seriousness, City’s European obsession is an unhealthy one and the sooner they realise that the sooner they might get a favourable draw and win the darn thing.
They just need to focus at home first.
Main image courtesy of Action Images/Alex Morton, with thanks.