Would-be European foes wary of rampant City

Posted by David Mooney

There are very few teams that can make eight changes to a side that has beaten Bayern Munich in their own stadium and get stronger, yet that’s exactly what Manchester City did at the weekend -- before they went on to tonk Arsenal, 6-3.

As eyes quickly drifted from the Champions League on Tuesday evening and to the Premier League on Sunday lunchtime, they just as swiftly meander back on Monday, as those notoriously difficult-to-open balls are once again pulled out of some pots.

Before we get to the nitty-gritty of the draw for the Champions League final 16, though, it’s worth taking a quick look at the Blues’ possible opponents. Since they finished in second place in their group, we know they will be up against one of the other group winners – though it won’t be the table toppers from groups A or E, since they’re both from England (Manchester United, Chelsea). It’s also not going to be Bayern Munich, since they were in the same group as City.

That leaves five potential opponents, three Spanish, one German and one French: Real Madrid, Atletico Madrid, Barcelona, Borussia Dortmund, or Paris Saint-Germain.

The immediate stand-out tie would be one of Spain’s big two. Barcelona -- largely agreed to have been the best side in the world a few years ago and with a footballing philosophy that has been considered the easiest on the eye. They won Group H at a canter, without Lionel Messi for three of the matches. The other option would be Group B winners Real Madrid, who the Blues faced last season and scraped a 2-2 draw with at Eastlands, after losing out to a stoppage-time winner in the Bernabeu -- despite leading 2-1 on 87 minutes.

Finally from Spain is Real’s city rivals Atletico. Both the Madrids are the only teams to have finished with more points than Manchester City (16 to the Blues' 15), with Atletico the only group winners to qualify with two games remaining.

There’s history in this competition between the Blues and Borussia Dortmund, with last year’s runners-up battering City at Eastlands (but succumbing to a 1-1 draw following a last-minute Mario Balotelli penalty and some wonderful Joe Hart saves -- those were the days, eh!) and cruising past a second-string side 1-0 in Germany. The ‘Group of Death’ winners finished level on points with both Arsenal and Napoli, but won thanks to having the better of the head-to-head records and a superior goal difference.

The final possibility, the Group C toppers Paris Saint-Germain, will be no walk in the park either. Their stand-out players include Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who -- when he is in the mood -- is capable of doing truly ridiculous things with a football that only seemed possible on computer games, and Edinson Cavani, who was linked with the Blues all summer. The Uruguayan was also very influential in the Napoli side that ran City riot in Italy two seasons ago.

But while the five potential opponents don’t make especially easy viewing, it’s very easy to forget that Manchester City’s second team has just beaten a virtual full strength Bayern Munich -- the reigning champions and current best team in Europe -- on their own patch. From two goals down.

That was the first time in 38 years that Bayern Munich lost from being two goals in front at home. That put a stop to the German club’s 10 consecutive Champions League wins. And this was no fluke -- having fallen behind, City worked hard to get back into the game and wrestle control of it from their hosts, before going on to strangle it when 3-2 in front.

But for a mathematical mistake by Manuel Pellegrini, the Blues may even have topped the group -- though introducing Sergio Aguero wouldn’t necessarily have guaranteed a goal, plus both Alvaro Negredo and Edin Dzeko had become isolated up front since the home side had control of the midfield in an attempt to create that chance to equalise.

But now, officials from all those five might well be thinking “please not Manchester City, please not Manchester City” when their name is pulled from the bowl. Barcelona’s Perdo said something similar on Thursday. Meanwhile, 66 percent of the club’s fans voted that they’d like to avoid the Blues in the last 16.

The truth is, City shouldn’t be afraid of anybody in the knockout phase of the competition. This is where the tournament gets tough and there was never a chance that the Blues would draw Spanish Second Division XI -- the phrase ‘there are no easy draws’ is a cliche for a reason.

It’s impossible to say the draw will be kind to City -- but there will be some marginally easier games available. The Blues, though, shouldn’t fear whoever comes out of the pot.

After all, what do they have to lose?

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