Manchester City, Guardiola, and soccer destiny
Manchester City has won its fifth Premier League Championship (2022-2023) under Spanish coach Pep Guardiola, their third in a row after Liverpool interrupted City’s previous cavalcade to a third win in the 2019-2020 season. City are now poised to make history at home and on their continent.
The Cityzens are contesting the FA Cup against Manchester United on June 3 at Wembley Stadium, London, and the UEFA Champions League, against Inter Milan on June 10, at Ataturk Olympic Stadium in Istanbul, Turkey. Should they win those two competitions, gaining a continental treble, they would become the second British team to do so after Manchester United and the latter win would make Guardiola the second-winningest coach in UEFA Champions League history behind only Real Madrid’s Carlo Ancelotti.
On June third, City will be tested against a United team that has nothing else to contest having settled into a Champions League berth in fourth place with a game in hand plus a three-point cushion over fifth-placed Liverpool on the Premiership table and having been drubbed out by Sevilla in the UEFA Europa League.
On the continental front a week later, Champions League final underdog Inter, who in Serie A are vying for a 2023-2024 Champions League slot with Juventus, Milan, Atalanta, and Lazio, and who play Fiorentina at Stadio Olimpico, in Rome, in the Coppa Italia final, have nothing to lose and everything to play for in Istanbul. In short, City will have to earn their treble in London and Istanbul instead of backsliding into those titles as they did in the Premier League when Arsenal imploded repeatedly.
It is ironic that what lies ahead seems so much easier to overcome than the struggle to simply reach these two finals turned out to be. It was beating Real Madrid (5-1 on aggregate) that sealed their Champions League final ticket, and it was being perfect down the stretch at home that allowed a simple and perfectly normal misstep by their rivals to dictate the outcome of the Premiership race.
But over a week’s span City will have to play two very different rivals with but one commonality, they are both simply playing for pride and the joy of having made their respective finals against City, when nothing else seemed to be working for United and only the Coppa would provide some redemption for Inter’s 2022-2023 campaign. These are the most treacherous of games. Just ask the high-flying Brazilian team of World Cup 2022, or the reigning champion German team of the 2018 World Cup, or the reigning champion Spanish team of the 2014 World Cup.
Manchester United will be projecting a year’s worth of hope and attempting to assuage their year’s frustrations in a single match at Wembley—City will simply be playing for history, and frankly, keeping an eye on their subsequent trip to Turkey. Inter will likewise have taken care of their domestic duties before leaving for Istanbul, but the Coppa is played on May 24, giving them 17 days to rest and prepare for City.
Pep Guardiola’s side are overwhelming favorites to reach their treble objective, but they are also as tightly wound up as a team can be while likewise being coached to within an inch of that brittle breaking point. City are the favorites in both games and have the depth of squad to play each game within a week of the other and still give each opponent a different look with a lineup that will yet be specifically tailored to winning each final. But if either of City’s opponents in these finals produces the game of their lives, it is very possible that Pep’s guys will wilt. The expectations upon them as overwhelming favorites may be their toughest obstacle to surmount. The questions are if City stumble, will they split the wins or lose them both?
Photo: Pep Guardiola, Manchester City’s coach, Shutterstock ID: 769447096, by Oleksandr Osipov