Julian Boland argues improving their defence will lead Manchester City to Champions League glory.
High up in the sky, looking down upon the rest, Manchester City have just conquered the mountain that is the Barclay's Premier League.
Although feeling on top of the world, towering above them to their side and rising above the heavens, is a mountain rivaling Olympus, looking down at all of Europe. City have attempted three recent expeditions up this mountain, falling off the edge every time. Now though, as they prepare to hike up it again, they can have no excuses to fear this mountain, the UEFA Champions League.
Having won the Barclay's Premier League twice in three years, the Citizens have had a run at the UEFA Champions League three times over the last three years. From those three occasions the furthest they have managed is the round of last sixteen. Having just led a domestic crusade winning the Premier League on the final day of the season, City need to make conquering Europe their main target next season.
To make a successful impact on Europe, the Sky Blues should consider the quarter finals the minimum, with the semi-finals being a success. Although dominating domestic opponents with a world class squad, they still have a few steps to take to conquer Europe; the Citizens need to act in the transfer market and buy a world class centre-back to partner Vincent Kompany.
Part of City's demise in their last European campaign was caused by Martin Demechilis. The Argentine was a grenade, with Barcelona pulling the pin. He clumsily tackled Lionel Messi when last man at the edge of the box, giving away a needless penalty, and resulting in an early shower for himself. To make it in Europe against the best opposition in the world, the Citizen's need to look at better options available in the summer.
Highly rated, versatile Porto defender Mangala, capable of playing centre-back and left-back, has received praise because of his pace, strength and aforementioned versatility. With his pace and strength, the Frenchman is able to recover quickly for himself and teammates. The Porto man would also easily fit in with Manuel Pellegrini's style as he is good and confident with the ball at his feet, all this at the tender age of 23.
The second Primeira Liga centre-half is Argentina's Ezequiel Garay, 28 years old, who has been a cornerstone in Benfica's hopeful domestic treble and Europa League campaign. The Argentine has strong pace but is praised for his defensive attributes, reading the game like a book. He is strong and able to out-muscle attackers, and is good in the air.
The last of the trio City should target is Medhi Benatia, the rock of AS Roma's rise this season. The Moroccan has been exceptional at the back for Roma, the warden of the jail that applies lock-down to attackers. He is praised along with the other two for his turn of pace, strength at set pieces and puts his all into every challenge. The defender is always a threat at set pieces, and commands his area with ease. With any of these three paired with Vincent Kompany, Manchester City's defence would be unbreakable with two of the world's best at the back.
Although Demichelis played a part in the fall of City, they ultimately shot themselves in the foot when they hosted Barcelona at the Etihad. City were not the almighty Kings hosting unworthy servants at their Etihad feast, instead they were the royal court Jesters entertaining Barcelona. They allowed Barcelona to hold the ball and play with it, a style City have adopted in their domestic league. This resulted in a 0-2 home loss to the Catalans, showing the inexperience of the English Champions. To leave a mark in Europe, City have to be the bully, get in the face of the opposition and show their quality, not be the one giving up the lunch money. They cannot allow teams that have more experience to have a walk in the park.
When City traveled to the Camp Nou though, they played like they should have played at home. They pressed Barcelona, showed they weren't scared, and created solid goal scoring opportunities. Although leaving Europe last season with glimpses of what they can do when they were the hungry, wild jungle cats, City's last campaign will be remembered for rolling over like the humbled lion, a trap they cannot fall into again.
When a team walked down the tunnel of the Etihad in the Premier League and saw the 'Pride in Battle' motto before the exit, they knew they were going to war. In the 19 battles that took place at the Etihad, City walked out victor's 17 times. They won a total of 52 points out of a possible 57. This stadium will be an important aspect in Manchester City's European challenge. The Sky Blues have to make examples out of teams. They have to turn the stadium into a European Gladiator Pit. It should strike fear into the unlucky opponents, make them afraid to step out into the barbaric atmosphere.
But to succeed in creating a fearful destination for opponents, the fans and players alike have to work together. If the fans are always behind the home team and create an electric atmosphere, the opposition will get zapped.
With a special spot in the Etihad trophy cabinet waiting for the Champions League crown, City need to win that trophy before the dust settles. To win the famous title, the Citizens just have to take a few steps forward, and if they do, they have a real chance of impacting Europe, and proving that Manchester is and will be staying blue for a while longer.