With the World Cup taking precedence in our minds over the last four weeks, it is easy to forget that qualification for next season’s Europa League has already started.
After finishing fifth last season, City, along with Aston Villa, don’t enter the competition until the play-off stage on 26th August, one stage after Liverpool, who enter at the third qualifying stage. The first leg of the second qualifying stage take place this week with a whole bunch of relatively unknown teams.
But the blues know only too well the dangers these unknown teams pose. In our own qualifying stage during the 2008/09 season, the blues were paired with FC Midtjylland, who surprised us with a 1-0 win at Eastlands and only a last minute own goal and a 4-2 penalty shoot-out win saved us from an embarrassing early exit.
Of course, City went on to reach the quarter-finals, where we were narrowly beaten on aggregate. But with Fulham’s first jaunt into Europe last season taking them all the way to the final, can City go one better than their Premiership rivals and lift the trophy?
Other than the blues, there are at least ten teams that could possibly lift the trophy. Liverpool, Juventus, Sporting, Stuttgart and Galatasaray all begin their campaigns in the 3rd qualifying round, while CSKA, Dortmund, Feyenoord, Napoli and Porto all join City in the play-off stage.
But, with the level of investment made at the club and the quality of City’s recent signings, the blues should be a match at least for all of those above but the big challenge comes when the Champions League failures arrive. Will City be able to overcome the rest of Europe’s elite?
My gut feeling is yes. Many of the players we now include in our ranks have enough European experience to stop a repeat of the Midtjylland game, as well as having the ability to turn a first leg defeat into second leg victory, or turn a stalemate in City’s favour.
In addition to the players, we now have a manager who has experience of European football and is building a squad which will become one of the best in England and the whole of Europe.
City are in for a big year and the level of expectancy will rise and if the players can perform on a consistently higher level, Irish beer won’t be the only thing City fans will be savouring in Dublin next May.
What do you think? Will the blues lift the trophy next May?
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