There is a direct correlation between the size of a club’s wage bill and how they perform and this is definitely the case with the Champions League. On that basis Manchester City can finally win the competition and justify the massive investment in the club. For many years City were in the shadow of United in Manchester and Europe and until they win the Champions League as a club and global brand they will be the second biggest club in town. However, the balance of power can shift if City do win the Champions League and they are favourites to do just that in 2017/18.
The Champions League is the Holy Grail of European football because the earnings from playing in the group stages and beyond are huge. Teams from the minor leagues across Europe are involved in qualifying from July but come the final in May two of the superpowers are battling to win the trophy. The days of relatively small Midlands clubs with a modest income like Nottingham Forest winning the European Cup are long gone. The winners are now one of the richest clubs from Spain, Germany, Italy and England. The last English winners were Chelsea in 2011-12.
The last winners from outside the four biggest European leagues were Porto in 2003-04. They beat Monaco 3-0 in the final and they were the last team to reach the final outside teams from the four richest leagues. The last 14 finals have brought together teams from those major European football nations. The manager of Porto was Jose Mourinho who would love to lead Manchester United to Champions League glory. The only two United managers who won the European Cup or Champions League were knighted and that would appeal to Mourinho’s sense of importance.
The final in two years from 2014 to 2016 was a meeting between two clubs from the same city. The matches between Real and Atletico from Madrid are the only occasions in which neighbours have contested the Champions League final. United and City have never met in European football and Manchester could emulate Madrid if the two clubs met in the final in Madrid in May 2019. It would arguably be the biggest game in the history of both clubs and the winners would have bragging rights for years. The Spanish giants will be hugely motivated to reach a final in Spain.
The draw for the group stages of the 2018/19 Champions League has been kinder to City than United. In fact there were tough draws for Liverpool, Tottenham and Manchester United and City’s were made favourites to progress furthest of the Premier League teams. The Premier League representatives were first or second favourites to win their groups and on form all four should progress to the last 16 but things then become more difficult.
Over the last eight years the four Premier League clubs have played in the groups 19 times between them. That involvement has produced just two finalists in Liverpool last season and Manchester United in 1010-11. There have been six appearances in the last eight onwards but none of the four Premier League clubs involved in 2018/19 have won the trophy over the last eight years. English clubs consistently qualify for the knockout rounds but don’t deliver at the business end of the Champions League.