Quite literally, Manchester City had been there before. Just 12 months before, actually. Indeed, City and Shakhtar Donetsk know each other well having met each other three times in the past year. Pep Guardiola knows them even better – he has been paired against the Ukrainian team in seven of his 11 Champions League campaigns as a manager.
The Shakhtar Donetsk side the Catalan coach came up against on Wednesday night was not a vintage one, though. Indeed, the Premier League champions had no trouble in brushing them aside, claiming a comprehensive 3-0 away victory to start their Champions League group stage campaign with three points.
This was the toughest test Man City are likely to face in this season’s Champions League group stage, with Guardiola’s team also drawn against Atalanta and Dinamo Zagreb. This has become a common occurrence in recent years. It’s true that City have had more than their fair share of luck with group draws.
But these easy groups aren’t helping Man City in their quest to become European champions. It has meant that by the time they reach the latter rounds, they are caught cold by the high calibre opponents they have been kept away from earlier on in the tournament. This has happened more than once.
It’s similar to a tennis player arriving in the latter rounds of a Grand Slam tournament without dropping a set. Elite athletes need obstacles to hurdle before they can reach the heights of their ability. The same goes for a team unit. City have lost to teams in the Champions League that should have beaten in recent years and one wonders if a lack of competition earlier in the competition has been a factor.
Guardiola is under pressure to deliver in Europe this season. The former Barcelona and Bayern Munich boss was hired to bring the Champions League title to the Etihad Stadium. Three years on from his appointment and Guardiola has yet to take City past the quarter final stage. For context, his predecessor Manuel Pellegrini reached the semi finals of the Champions League.
The Premier League champions could have forgiven for breathing a sight of relief when the group stage draw was made. They could have been handed a much tougher group, that’s for sure. But an easy group doesn’t do them any favours either.
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