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UCL Make or Break

(Sports Illustrated)

By. Abhinav Tirumala

As the 2022-2023 UEFA Champions League is in full swing, the time has come for teams to showcase their talents on the continental stage.

First, you have the defending champions Real Madrid, trying to repeat their historic triumph from last season. Second, you have the usual suspects, like Liverpool, Bayern Munich, and Chelsea, all recent winners trying to get back to their perch on the pedestal of European Football. Third, you have the returning heroes, such as Rangers, Celtic, and Napoli, all returning to the Champions League after seasons in the wilderness. Fourth, you have participation trophies, also known as the teams who are happy to be there. These teams include smaller clubs like Dinamo Zagreb, FC Shakhtar Donetsk, and Club Brugge.

Finally, you have the fallen giants, former UEFA Champions League winners who haven’t been able to get to the top in recent times and are ready to retake their place amongst the European elite; these include teams like AC Milan, Juventus, and FC Barcelona.

I believe the fascinating group is the clubs in a category I call “make or break.” These clubs' reputation depends on success in the UEFA Champions League. Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) share a common goal; their Champions League campaign will determine this season's success. However, both have slight differences regarding their specific situations. In this article, I’ll look at both of these teams' cases and determine why this UEFA Champions League Campaign will be a make-or-break season for the squads.

Manchester City

(Sky Sports)

Prior to the dominance that is constantly displayed in Manchester, Manchester City’s reputation was a noisy neighbour. Their superclub status was widely derided and scoffed at by most fans and football media. However, the arrival of legendary FC Barcelona manager Pep Guardiola injected a new echelon of respect for the Sky Blues.

Since Pep Guardiola joined the Cityzens in 2016, they’ve won four Premier League titles in six years and have finished in the top four in the years they didn’t win the league. They’ve also won many domestic cups and dominated England during Pep’s reign.

Additionally, the exciting, intricate style of football practiced by Man City became world-renowned for its effectiveness. The technique was initially questioned by many in the English media because they didn’t believe it would be able to succeed in a physical league like the Prem. Despite the doubts, Pep proved the English media wrong and produced enthralling football, consistently leading Manchester City to domestic success.

Their Champions League results, however, leave much to be desired. Here are Pep Guardiola’s champions league results since taking charge of Manchester City:

2016/2017 - Round of 16 loss to AS Monaco FC

2017/2018 - Quarter Finals Loss to Liverpool FC

2018/2019 - Quarter Finals Loss to Tottenham Hotspur

2019/2020 - Quarter Finals Loss to Olympique Lyon

2020/2021 - UCL Final Loss to Chelsea FC

2021/2022 - Semi Final Loss to Real Madrid FC

Last season’s spectacular loss to Real Madrid was a microcosm of City’s European failures since Guardiola's taken over. Although they have all the talent necessary to break through to the top of Europe, their lack of mentality and historical success will always work against them in the big moments.

Despite spending over £1B since taking over Manchester City, Guardiola still hasn’t won the Champions League. And Manchester City’s status as a European Superclub won’t be genuinely recognized by the masses until they achieve European glory.

The time for excuses is over, and with the new signing of goal-machine Erling Haaland and midfield reinforcement in the form of Kalvin Philips, the failure to win the Champions League this season is simply inexcusable. Therefore, the UEFA Champions League will make or break Manchester City’s elite status and its legacy as a whole.

Paris Saint Germain

(Get French Football News)

Since the Qatari takeover of Paris Saint-Germain in late 2011, the free-spending Parisians have seen unprecedented domestic success. In the ten full seasons, Qatar Sports Investments (QSI) has owned the club; they’ve won the Ligue 1 eight times, finishing second on the other two occasions. In addition, PSG’s commercial success has increased significantly, with their ranking on Deloitte’s Football Money League showcasing their rise. Before QSI’s takeover, the club ranked 31st in the world and is now consistently ranked amongst the top 10, currently in 6th place.

Their wealthy owners have allowed the Parisians to break spending records and pay an insane amount of money in wages to players. Initially, PSG made essential arrivals, with Zlatan Ibrahimovic being their statement signing in 2012, arriving from AC Milan for a fee of €20M and a salary of 14 million euros per year, making him the second highest-paid footballer in the world at the time. Thiago Silva, Javier Pastore, Ezequiel Lavezzi, and others would continue to follow, bringing PSG more and more domestic success.

However, the true extent of how much PSG would be willing to pay for players revealed itself with their world-record acquisition of David Luiz in 2014. Luiz, whose defensive abilities were greatly maligned before the World Cup, was further questioned following his embarrassing defensive display during Brazil’s 7-1 loss to Germany during the tournament. And the €50 fee made Luiz the most expensive defender in history, but this was the start of PSG’s money-throwing capability.

Perhaps the most shocking transfer arguably in the history of football was Neymar’s €222 million transfer from Barcelona to Paris Saint-Germain. Neymar’s transfer broke Gareth Bale’s record for the most expensive player by a large margin. In fact, at the time, the valuation of Neymar’s old club Santos was worth less than the €222m he cost.

Along with Neymar, PSG’s added multiple marquee names, like Sergio Ramos, Gianluigi Donnarumma, Mauro Icardi, Lionel Messi, and Kylian Mbappe. Mbappe became the world's most expensive teenager and second most expensive player of all time. Yet despite all the signings, PSG hasn’t been able to win what they crave most, the UEFA Champions League.

Here are the UCL results since the acquisition of PSG by Qatar Sports Investment bought the club:

2012/2013 - Quarter Finals Loss to FC Barcelona

2013/2014 - Quarter Finals Loss to Chelsea FC

2014/2015 - Quarter Finals Loss to FC Barcelona

2015/2016 - Quarter Finals Loss to Manchester City FC

2016/2017 - Round of 16 Loss to FC Barcelona

2017/2018 - Round of 16 Loss to Real Madrid CF

2018/2019 - Round of 16 Loss to Manchester United FC

2019/2020 - UCL Final Loss to FC Bayern Munich

2020/2021 - Semi-Finals Loss to Manchester City FC

2021/2022 - Round of 16 Loss to Real Madrid CF

The Round of 16 losses to FC Barcelona in 2017, to Real Madrid in 2022 and to Manchester United in 2019 are the most damning of these results in my opinion. As all three matches had PSG favoured by most people to close out the fixture, despite that, they capitulated and couldn’t keep their composure, ultimately ending up with an L in the history books.

The 2017 loss to FC Barcelona goes down as one of the most humiliating defeats in the history of football. During the first leg of the tie, Paris won the match 4-0 with Angel Di Maria netting a brace. All PSG needed was even a mediocre defensive performance and they would go through, instead, they completely lost control and gave up 6 goals. Including 3 in the last 10 minutes, with Neymar netting a brace and Sergi Roberto scoring the dagger off a Neymar assist.

(Barca Blaugranes)

The second defeat to focus on would be the loss against Manchester United, who were recovering from their tumultuous spell under Jose Mourinho. United would win the match courtesy of a brace from Romelu Lukaku and an injury-time penalty from Marcus Rashford.

Lastly, PSG’s most recent Champions League to Real Madrid will go down as a history lesson that shows that the underdog can win games purely on will. In terms of talent, PSG had absolutely zero excuses, their front three featured Leo Messi, Neymar and Kylian Mbappe, three of the highest-paid players in the history of football.

This PSG squad was also given the title of the greatest transfer window of all time due to their various arrivals, like Messi, Sergio Ramos, Gini Wijnaldum and €70m wing-back Achraf Hakimi, in addition to Euro 2020 player of the tournament Gianluigi Donnaruma, despite already having 3-time UCL winner Keylor Navas in goal. The attack was missing in action, whilst the defence was absolutely shambolic, with Donnarumma, Presnel Kimpembe and Marquinhos, in particular, being the worst of the bunch.

This season, Neymar Jr’s all-business approach, in addition to retaining Kylian Mbappe means PSG has no excuses. The squad is playing with more synergy than ever before, and Sergio Ramos being healthy again means the defence has an added dimension for solidity and big-match experience, a critical factor in helping prevent collapses like the ones referenced above. For QSI’s huge investment in the club to pay off, the Champions League is a must-win. As for Neymar Jr and Kylian Mbappe, winning the Champions League will show the world they made the right decision by going to PSG, not just to increase their bank account.


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