A record-tying victory in the last 16 and a quarterfinal lineup lacking at least three of Europe’s top teams suggests this just might be Manchester City’s year in the Champions League.
No matter how much Pep Guardiola protests to the contrary.
With a 7-0 thrashing of Schalke on Tuesday that completed a 10-2 aggregate victory, City eased into the last eight of European soccer’s most prestigious competition for the third time in four seasons and confirmed its status as one of the favorites — whatever Guardiola might be saying in public.
Even if history is not on their side — Guardiola recently called City a “teenage” side that is “still not ready to fight for the latter stages” — the form of his players certainly is.
Make that 61 goals in 18 games in 2019, with only eight conceded. Perhaps more extraordinarily, it was the seventh time that City have scored six or more goals in a game this season.
“This club, the best success in the history (in the Champions League) is a semifinal, compared to Real Madrid with 13 (titles). Or Barcelona, Liverpool, Juventus, who have how many? Six, seven, eight?” Guardiola said. “It is why when the people say, ‘You have to win, you have to win,’ when you are out in the quarterfinals it is a disaster. It is not fair.”
But City and Guardiola, the man brought in at huge expense so the Abu Dhabi-backed club can finally conquer Europe, are running out of excuses.
City have arguably its deepest and most talented squad ever. Paris Saint-Germain and titleholder Real Madrid are already out. One of Bayern Munich and Liverpool will be eliminated. Barcelona still has it all to do against Lyon on Wednesday, with the teams locked at 0-0 after the first leg.
There is no denying it has opened up for City.
Certainly Schalke was in no shape to stop Guardiola’s side.
This season’s round of 16 has featured some memorable comebacks so far — notably from Ajax and Manchester United last week — but Schalke’s chances of overturning a 3-2 first-leg deficit virtually disappeared when Sergio Aguero chipped home a 35th-minute penalty to make it 1-0 in the second leg at Etihad Stadium.
Aguero doubled the lead three minutes later after running onto Raheem Sterling’s deft backheel, Leroy Sane stroked in another goal before halftime, before Sterling, Bernardo Silva, Phil Foden and Gabriel Jesus added second-half goals for City against the demoralized visitors from Germany.
The win equaled the 7-0s recorded by Bayern Munich against Basel (2012) and Shakhtar Donetsk (2015). The latter was achieved when Guardiola was coach at Bayern.
“We fell apart. The look of tension is the worst since I have been here,” said Schalke coach Domenico Tedesco, who is fighting for his job with his team just four points above the relegation zone in the Bundesliga.
With two months left of the season, a quadruple of trophies remains on for City, which has already won the English League Cup, is top of the Premier League, and plays second-tier Swansea in the FA Cup quarterfinals on Saturday.
Winning the Champions League for the first time will be the toughest task, especially with Juventus still involved. Cristiano Ronaldo scored a hat trick on Tuesday, including a late penalty, as Juventus beat Atletico Madrid 3-0 and advanced 3-2 on aggregate.
Manchester United, Tottenham, Porto and Ajax are the other teams to qualify for the quarterfinals, the draw for which takes place on Friday.
“Madrid is out but still Juventus and Cristiano Ronaldo,” Guardiola said. “He goes there to win the Champions League with Juventus. He has all the pressure on his shoulders, he scores three against Atletico Madrid and goes through — that is the type of guy you face (in) the next stages. We are going to try. If it doesn’t work, I am sorry but I assure you next season we are going to try.”