Filthy rich but dirt-poor luck

Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola will be facing his old club Barcelona, where he spent 22 years, in the Champions League.
Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola will be facing his old club Barcelona, where he spent 22 years, in the Champions League.PHOTO: ACTION IMAGES

Man City face Barcelona yet again in perhaps the toughest group among English clubs

MONACO • Poor Manchester City. On Thursday, the English Premier League's arrivistes received yet another rude reminder that money cannot buy you luck.

It has been a year of considerable flux at the English football club. New crest, new manager, and now, new goalkeeper.

But, if they were hoping for a change of fortunes at the Champions League draw, they were sorely mistaken.

With a sense of cosmic inevitability, into Group C they went, joining European super-heavyweights Barcelona, the former team of their manager Pep Guardiola.

Borussia Monchengladbach and Celtic followed, completing a group perhaps not quite as deadly as those they have faced in previous years, but still comfortably the most perilous draw of any of the four Premier League teams.

"It is a tough draw," Txiki Begiristain, their director of football, admitted.

  • MAN CITY'S TOUGH LUCK

    Manchester City have played Barcelona four times in the past three seasons and lost on every occasion, all in the round of 16 with an aggregate score of 7-2.

    This is on top of their tough group draw season in season out.

    2015-16

    12pts

    Last season, City topped a group with Italian champions Juventus, Borussia Monchengladbach and Sevilla, the Europa League winners.

    2014-15

    8

    The year before, it was Bayern Munich, Roma and CSKA Moscow and they were second behind the Germans.

    2013-14

    15

    The draw was slightly kinder with CSKA Moscow and Czech side Viktoria Plzen, but City were still paired with Bayern, as two years earlier, and were second to them on goal difference.

    2012-13

    3

    They propped up a group that had Borussia Dortmund, Ajax and Real Madrid, the champions of Germany, the Netherlands and Spain.

"Barcelona are always a favourite and we beat Monchengladbach last season but both games were difficult."

Naturally, it is the matches against Barcelona that really intrigue.

Guardiola spent 22 years at the Nou Camp - 17 as a player and five as a coach - arriving as a skinny 13-year-old winger and departing as a managerial demigod having won 14 trophies and burnished a reputation as one of the finest coaches of all time.

Not all Guardiola's memories of Barcelona are fond ones, however - he must still be tormented by the humiliating recollection of his first homecoming, when his Bayern Munich team were dismantled by Luis Enrique's side in the 2014-15 semi-final.

City, too, have been impaled on the sharp prongs of the Messi-Suarez-Neymar trident - Barcelona have eliminated them at the last-16 stage in two of the past three seasons.

If the football gods delivered another karmic kicking to City, there was a sense that they smiled beneficently on the Leicester City fairy tale.

In their debut Champions League campaign, Claudio Ranieri's English champions were handed the kindest of draws - Porto, Club Brugge and Copenhagen.

City's English rivals Tottenham Hotspur also managed to avoid the continent's giants, while London outfit Arsenal will have high hopes of preserving their immaculate record of having qualified for the Champions League knockout stage in each of the past 13 seasons.

Arsene Wenger's side drew French champions Paris Saint-Germain, Basel and Bulgarian side Ludogorets Razgrad in Group A.

In other significant clashes delivered by the draw, Bayern Munich were given a quick chance to avenge last season's semi-final defeat by Atletico Madrid , while holders and 11-time champions Real Madrid renew their recent rivalry with Borussia Dortmund.

Three English clubs qualified automatically for the draw, with the fourth-placed team having to go through a play-off, as City did this week against Steaua Bucharest.

But a revamp of the qualifying format, announced yesterday, will ensure four guaranteed places for the top four nations in Uefa's rankings - at present Spain, Germany, England and Italy - from the 2018-19 season until 2021.

THE TIMES, LONDON, THE GUARDIAN, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 27, 2016, with the headline 'Filthy rich but dirt-poor luck'. Print Edition | Subscribe