Why Manchester City's Champions League tie with Monaco could make or break Pep Guardiola's first season

 
Trevor Steven
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Manchester City FC v AS Monaco - UEFA Champions League Round of 16: First Leg
City take a 5-3 lead into the second leg against Monaco (Source: Getty)

In a season of dramatic change on and off the pitch under Pep Guardiola, Wednesday night's Champions League trip to Monaco has taken on huge significance for Manchester City and the Spaniard.

It hasn’t been an easy first season for Guardiola, who had a far smoother ride at Barcelona and Bayern Munich, where his team weren’t just one of six or seven teams of similar quality scrapping for domestic honours.

I think it has been harder than he expected, and the pressure has been evident in some prickly interviews with the media that have affected our perception of him. No longer is he bullet-proof.

Read more: Guardiola wants English core at Man City – if the price is right

Guardiola deserves credit for changing the team’s style of play – no simple task when players are still expected to win every week – as well as shaking up the club behind the scenes.

Having started brilliantly, Pep’s City endured an October to forget, but they have re-established their form and – taking the outstanding Chelsea out of the equation for a moment – are probably only a few points off where he’d have wanted them to be in the Premier League.

Their adaptation is not 100 per cent complete: they remain inconsistent, seem only to play very well or very badly, and some teams have figured out how to play them.

The squad needs some changes in the summer, and we also don’t know whether Pep’s style will win a Premier League – it’s certainly very different to Chelsea’s – but for now he’d score a 7/10.

Manchester City v Tottenham Hotspur - Premier League
Guardiola has shown the strain in some tetchy interviews (Source: Getty)

With the title almost certainly gone, a good season for Guardiola would be achieving direct Champions League qualification, by finishing in the top three, and winning a trophy.

They still have a chance of lifting two pieces of silverware, but it’s no more than a chance.

The last four of the FA Cup is littered with tough teams, while, as phenomenal as it would be, winning the Champions League this year is beyond even the City board’s expectations.

Read more: Guardiola promises more of the same after eight-goal thriller

That said, staying in Europe’s top club competition is worth something in itself. Reaching the semi-finals for the second year running would put City even more firmly on the map of the top teams.

To do so they’ll have to overcome Monaco and then a quarter-final, and though they take a 5-3 lead to the principality, the Ligue 1 club can’t be underestimated.

Monaco play with style and intensity and have goals throughout their team. They may be easily dismissed because they play in France but if anyone can overcome a two-goal deficit it is them.

Reaching the last eight would be a very positive step for City. But elimination from this position will be seen as regression, meaning Guardiola’s first season will start to look like a poor one.

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