It’s with a great deal of trepidation that Manchester City fans sit down to watch the Champions League draw these days. There’s a group of supporters who are like the fans on computer games; no matter the difficulty of the game, no matter the scoreline, no matter the actual events of the match itself, they’re seen with a big grin on their face, dancing and waving their arms. They’re happy to be out, if slightly pixelated around the edges. They’re the first camp when it comes to the European draw – those who are happy to be there and don’t care about being drawn against the best because it’s nice to see them at the Etihad.
Or they believe you have to beat the best anyway, so get them out of the way early on.
Then there are those who, in the fourth season of the competition, are now bored of losing. And a bit bored of drawing Bayern Munich (though whichever camp you’re in, this is probably true). They’re sick to death of being given difficult groups and just want a middle of the road draw like every other bleeder in the competition seems to get. Except Bayern Munich, obviously, they keep getting City.
This season took the biscuit, frankly. The Blues were drawn into the same group as two of their opponents from last year and then the most difficult pot four team was thrown into the mix, too. Four campaigns in the competition and three groups of death – and City were supposed to be the type of team the European Cup’s transformation was geared towards… Champions.
In fact, the two times City have entered the competition as champions, they’ve had their two most difficult groups. Some reward for winning the league!
The restructuring of the competition works as follows: From 2015-16, the holder of the Champions League will be placed into pot one for the group draw. Joining them will be the league winners from the top seven countries in the UEFA jurisdiction and the remaining slots in pots two, three and four will be decided upon like the current system – by coefficient.
On the face of it, it looks a much fairer system. However, the thought occurs that it doesn’t necessarily rule out the chances of City getting another group of death, it just alters the way in which it happens – whether or not they win the league this season.
For instance, only one of Barcelona, Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid can finish in top spot in La Liga. That would knock the non-winners down into the other pots. So instead of City being the pot two team and Real Madrid being the pot one team (as happened in 2012-13), City could be the pot one team and Real Madrid the pot two. And they could still draw each other.
This season’s difficult pot four team, Roma, would still have been in pot four had this system been in place already. They didn’t win the league, so would have been organised simply by their coefficient… which they were organised by anyway. Suddenly, that group of death looks just as possible as it did previously.
Worse, the situation could be even harder for the Blues should they NOT win the league. Immediately, pot one is closed for them should they finish in second or third in the Premier League and that means they will have to draw one of the champions of Europe. Because City’s coefficient already isn’t enough to climb in with the top seeds, they may even struggle to make pot two in the new system – since those with lesser coefficients automatically get a bye ahead of them.
Put the Blues into pot three and there’s the possibility of a champion, a non-champion Real-Madrid-esque giant and then the pot four Roma-style side. And you know City’s luck. That is to say, if anything can go wrong, it will go worse than anybody would have even expected it to – even if they were anticipating some sort of horror show in the first place. That’s the Manchester City way. This Champions League revolution’s looking like a minefield for Manuel Pellegrini already!
City will just have to simply win the league again and again and again for the next few years.
And if writing this article’s taught me anything, it’s to be deeply suspicious of the word ‘simply’…
Written by David Mooney