‘Holy Grail’: can Man City finally win the Champions League?

Pep Guardiola’s side thrashed Sporting 5-0 in the round of 16 first leg

Man City’s Bernardo Silva celebrates scoring against Sporting CP
Man City’s Bernardo Silva celebrates scoring against Sporting CP
(Image credit: Pedro Fiúza/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

It’s only “half-time” in their round of 16 tie against Sporting CP, but Manchester City already have one foot in the Uefa Champions League quarter-finals after a stunning 5-0 win in Lisbon.

Pep Guardiola’s side strolled to victory against the Portuguese champions on Tuesday night with Bernardo Silva (two), Riyad Mahrez, Phil Foden and Raheem Sterling on the scoresheet. Silva, in particular, was “brilliant”, said the BBC, with the former Benfica man “silencing the boos that greeted every touch” the Lisbon-born player made.

Billed as a “potentially tricky tie” for City, the beleaguered hosts “could only watch in despair” as the Premier League champions scored four goals in the first half, Sky Sports reported. This “statement” result – the joint-biggest victory by any side in the history of the Champions League knockout stages – has “further underlined why City are considered favourites to lift the trophy”.

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‘Desperate to win in Europe’

Since Sheikh Mansour bought them in 2008, City have been England’s most successful club with 13 trophies in that time, talkSPORT reported. But despite their massive success domestically – and £1.8bn spent on transfers – they have still not won European football’s top club competition. The closest they have come is last year when they reached the final, but lost 1-0 to English rivals Chelsea.

City have been favourites to win the Champions League before, said Luke Edwards in The Telegraph. They were “equally impressive” on their way to the final last season, but the “ultimate prize, the club’s Holy Grail”, slipped through their fingers at the last moment. Guardiola and City’s owners are “desperate to win in Europe”, Edwards added. Could this be their moment? They will “never get a better chance”.

The Citizens’s display in Portugal has “only strengthened their case” for Champions League success this season, said the Liverpool Echo. And former England midfielder Owen Hargreaves believes they are the team to beat.

“They’re favourites to win this competition,” Hargreaves said on BT Sport. “I think these players have delivered time and time again. The margins are fine, we’ve seen that in the Champions League, but I think he [Guardiola] backs his players to get the job done this season."

Pep: ‘We can do better’

City were “sensational” against Sporting and were “seemingly playing a different version of the sport to anybody else in Europe”, said Sarah Winterburn on Football365.

Sporting will be “dismissed as sacrificial lambs” but Real Madrid would not have done this in Lisbon, she added. “Nor would Chelsea nor Bayern Munich nor PSG. Liverpool might, but the truth is that this season’s Liverpool do not look quite as devastating as this City.”

Guardiola declared City’s 5-0 demolition of Sporting as the “dream result”, The Guardian reported. But the Spaniard believes “we can do better” in terms of performance. “I am absolutely more than delighted,” he said. “We were so clinical when we arrived to the goal. We have a duty as a manager and team to analyse.”

City will welcome Sporting to the Etihad Stadium for the return leg on 9 March. Even though they have the five-goal cushion, first-leg hero Silva has urged his team-mates to “keep going”. He told mancity.com: “There’s still a job to do in Manchester, we can’t relax. In the Champions League you cannot relax.”

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Mike Starling is the digital features editor at The Week, where he writes content and edits the Arts & Life and Sport website sections and the Food & Drink and Travel newsletters. He started his career in 2001 in Gloucestershire as a sports reporter and sub-editor and has held various roles as a writer and editor at news, travel and B2B publications. He has spoken at a number of sports business conferences and also worked as a consultant creating sports travel content for tourism boards. International experience includes spells living and working in Dubai, UAE; Brisbane, Australia; and Beirut, Lebanon.