If bookmaker odds are anything to go by, Manchester City’s chances of winning the Champions League this season are much greater than their hopes of defending their Premier League crown.
The Citizens, somewhat questionably, are the 11/4 favourites to win the European Cup for the first time, the one major trophy that eludes Pep Guardiola in his short but incredibly successful stint in Manchester.
Defeat to their neighbours Manchester United on Saturday saw their Premier League outright odds drift out to 8/1 in some places, so there is an argument for City to now put all their eggs in the Champions League basket.
However, former Liverpool defender Phil Babb – who is desperate to see his old side win their first league title since 1990 – does not believe Guardiola would be quite so naïve.
“The last thing City want is a ridiculous gap in the Premier League table,” Babb told Bookmakers.co.uk. “I don’t think Pep’s focus will be deterred that much.
“City fans, having seen their team win back-to-back titles, might feel as though they should now focus on winning the Champions League, but you have to wonder is this Manchester City side good enough to win the Champions League?
“I’d have to say – right now – no, probably not. So I think prioritising the Champions League would be a big gamble, they’ve got to believe that they can close the gap on Liverpool. Maybe Leicester can do them both a favour by beating Liverpool on Boxing Day, and Liverpool still have to go to the Etihad remember.”
Leicester Under-Priced Again?
Surprisingly, bookmakers are again willing to write off the sport’s most famous underdogs – Leicester City – with Brendan Rodgers’ in-form Foxes still available at 16/1 to win a second Premier League title in four years.
Leicester have won eight league games on the bounce, currently lead Man City by six points and trail runaway leaders Liverpool – who they host on December 26 – by eight points. Surely that makes them Liverpool’s biggest threat?
“Form wise and stats wise, you’d say yes,” said Babb. “But you have to look at the quality of Manchester City and you have to wonder what Pep might do in January to try and reignite the challenge.
“But, when watching Leicester, I don’t see too many weaknesses. The players also have desire, determination and some, perhaps most importantly, have the experience of winning the league only a few years ago.
“They’re on a crest of a wave at the moment and there’s no sign of it dipping, so the game on Boxing Day against Liverpool is going to be massive and I’m really looking forward to it.”
With Manchester City already through to the Champions League knock-out ages as Group C winners, their trip to Dinamo Zagreb on Wednesday brings little pressure, but Guardiola will be anxious about picking up more injuries in what has been a frustrating campaign to date.
Man City Transfer Targets
Key central defender Aymeric Laporte suffered a knee injury in August which is expected to keep him out until February, and City have lacked serious organisational skills at the back in the France international’s absence.
That, coupled with the departure of former club captain Vincent Kompany last summer, has undoubtedly contributed to City falling way off the pace with league leaders Liverpool.
“Pep had the opportunity to strengthen in the summer and he didn’t,” added Babb. “We all knew Vincent Kompany was going and he looked to Laporte to be that rock in defence in his absence.
“Since he’s been out, I think Fernandinho has done a good job, all things considered, but injuries and rotation between John Stones and Nicolas Otamendi has resulted in inconsistent form overall at the back.
“You’d have to imagine that will lead to Pep strengthening at centre-half in January, maybe Kalidou Koulibaly could be the answer? I was surprised they never went for him in the summer.
“He would be expensive though, for sure. But if they find themselves even further behind Liverpool come January, they might write this title defence off and that could make them think twice about spending £100million on a new centre-half.
“That’s the kind of big bucks it’s going to take for a top-level centre-half, when you consider the £80m fee Harry Maguire went for.
“It’ll be interesting to see what they go for – a short-term solution or long-term? Pep needs to show that he is as motivated as ever and still wants to achieve things with this Manchester City squad.
“He knows he’s going to lose David Silva next summer too – they’ve got good replacements already in Ilkay Gundogan and Bernardo Silva, but maybe they’ll need to bring in a new midfielder.”
For all their difficulties, City remain favourites to retain both the FA Cup (10/3) and the League Cup (1/1), but having already completed the domestic treble last season, it’s the Champions League Guardiola needs to truly leave his mark on the Citizens.