Since the huge investment in the club made by the Abu Dhabi United Group in 2008, and especially since Pep Guardiola took over in 2016, City have become one of the best and most successful clubs in the world. Quite what their new owners sought from their vast outlay is debatable, with many feeling that the chief aim was to create legitimacy and goodwill for Abu Dhabi and the UAE, as well as to market the United Arab Emirates’s capital city as a tourist destination.
Bagging loads of League Cups was almost certainly well behind removing the nation’s dependency on oil revenue as a goal but at the same time there is no doubt that the club and its owners are desperate to win the European Cup (as the Champions League was called prior to 1992). Here we take a look at just how City have got on in the UEFA Champions League (UCL), running through their highs, lows and near misses.
Have Man City Ever Won the Champions League?
As with all of the information in this article, we are talking about prior to the conclusion of the 2022/23 Champions League, for which, at the time of writing, City are the favourites. So, whilst this answer may change in just a few months, right now, City have not won the European Cup/Champions League. They were founded in 1880, first played in the European Cup in the 1968/69 season and are now regulars in the latter stages but thus far they have never won the trophy.
Champions League Finals
City are getting closer and they have at least appeared in the final of Europe’s top club competition, albeit only once. We will look at that game in more detail below but a summary of their one and only outing in the showpiece of the UCL can be seen below.
Given the huge sums spent in recent times and the fact they have Guardiola, believed by many to be the best manager in the world, in the dugout, that may seem a meagre return but it is one only a fool or a genius would bet against improving in the years ahead.
Stage of Elimination
As noted, the vast majority of City’s appearances in this competition have come in recent years in its guise as the Champions League, though they did also play one campaign in the old European Cup. Below we can see the stage at which they have been eliminated for all the years they have played in the competition.
|Stage||Number of Times||Percentage|
|Round of 16||3||25%|
Note that the information in the table is correct as of the end of the 2021/22 season.
Man City’s Best Performances
As shown in two separate tables above, City have reached the final of this competition once but never won it, meaning that their run in 2020/21 represents their best performance. In the previous season, they had only finished second in the Premier League, behind Liverpool, whilst they were surprisingly and disappointingly knocked out of the Champions League at the quarter final stage by Lyon. City had beaten Real Madrid in the previous round so this was a major upset.
Despite this, Pep’s troops began the 2020/21 season as favourites for every competition they entered, including the UCL. In this competition they showed they meant business by winning five and drawing one of their six group games to easily top the group ahead of Porto. In the last 16 they faced Borussia Monchengladbach and made light work of the Germans, winning 2-0 both home and away.
The quarter finals saw them face another German team, and another Borussia – this time Dortmund. They again won both legs but this time 2-1, future City player Erling Haaland failing to score in both games for the Germans. In the semis they were again given a huge test, this time against Paris Saint-Germain, but again they passed it with flying colours and once more by winning both home and away. A 2-1 victory at the Parc des Princes set them up perfectly and in the return leg a Riyadh Mahrez brace saw them progress 4-1 on aggregate.
That saw them through to the final in Porto where English rivals Chelsea awaited. The West Londoners had beaten Atletico Madrid, Porto and then Real Madrid to make the final but City were huge favourites. Thomas Tuchel was perceived to be doing a fine job with Chelsea but they remained a work in progress, years behind City in terms of their development, as evidenced by the eventual 19-point gap between the teams in the EPL table. City were understandably huge favourites.
Of course, as anyone who bets on football knows, favourites do not always win and on the 29th of May it was Chelsea who prevailed in the Estadio do Dragao, winning 1-0. As huge finals so often are, the game was a disappointing one for the neutrals, with few chances and little in the way of excitement. Statistically, it was very even, City having 58% of the ball but their opponents having more shots. However, the fact that the game saw just four corners and three shots on target in total, which gives a fair indication of what sort of a clash it was.
Due to health restrictions at the time, just 14,110 fans were present and the lack of an atmosphere perhaps didn’t help. Kai Havertz scored the clash’s only goal, after 42 minutes, latching onto a fine pass from inside the Chelsea half from Mason Mount and being left with an open goal after the ball fell kindly to him after bouncing off the on-rushing Ederson. Chelsea deserved the win and were rarely threatened as Tuchel’s men were tactically superb, very disciplined and driven on by the midfield energy of Man of the Match N’Golo Kante.
2022 – How Did They Lose?
The winners of the Champions League are “the best team in Europe”… but are they? In the 2021/22 season, very few pundits would claim that Real Madrid were objectively the best on the continent and yet they won the UCL. They beat Liverpool in the final and City in the semis, as well as Chelsea and PSG before that, so many will feel that they thoroughly deserved to claim their 14th title in this competition. But how on Earth did Man City let Los Blancos win?
Once again City were favourites for the tournament and were looking like champions, especially when they held off Atletico Madrid in the quarters in a hugely hostile second leg in Spain. A few weeks later they faced Real and things began solidly enough when they won the first leg at home, 4-3. In truth, they should have been out of sight after the first game though. City were 2-0 up after 11 minutes, then 3-1 after 53, and they were by far the better side but they allowed Real to stay in the tie.
Even so, City were brilliant in the second leg at the Bernabeu and overall they had twice as many shots on target as the hosts and more than three times as many corners. They led 1-0 on the night with the game almost up, so were 5-3 ahead on aggregate. But then Real scored in the 90th minute. And, then again in the 91st. And, then again in the 95th, albeit this third strike came in extra time. In the end, City lost in harrowing fashion, going out 6-5 and once again falling short in the Champions League.
Man City’s Worst Upsets
City’s collapse against Real was a shocker, whilst their exit against Lyon in the quarters in 2020 was also a major upset. This latter defeat was somewhat mitigated by the fact the tie was played over a single leg at a neutral venue due to the pandemic but it was a shock nonetheless. However, City’s worst performance, statistically, came way back in 1968/69, when they went out in the first round.
In 2011/12 and 2012/13 they went out at the UCL group stage, which could be seen as the first round but this was very early on their journey to being a top side. Back in the late 1960s English, indeed British, football was strong, with Man United crowned European champions in 1968, Celtic in 1967 and Celtic and Leeds making the final in the early 1970s. As league champions, City were well fancied but they fell at the very first hurdle.
On a night when city rivals (and reigning European champions) Manchester United were seeing off Waterford United 3-1, City drew 0-0 at Maine Road with Fenerbahce. In October, Man United completed their first-round rout by winning 7-1, but City let their first-half lead in Istanbul go and lost 2-1 to exit the European Cup. It would be a long wait for them to play in the competition again and, of course, the wait to win their first European Cup/Champions League goes on.