Six reasons why Man City are finally ready to win the Champions League: Unstoppable Erling Haaland, Ruben Dias marshalling a rock solid defence & Pep Guardiola pulling off new tactical innovations

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The English champions have hit form at the right time and everything is now falling into place for them to lift the European Cup at long last

It's not the first time it's been said, but it feels like the stars are aligning for Manchester City in the Champions League.

After putting seven goals past RB Leipzig in the last 16, they out-thought and out-classed Bayern Munich in last week's quarter-final first leg.

They take a 3-0 lead into Wednesday's second leg at the Allianz Arena, and take a refreshed and rested team to Munich after barely breaking stride to beat Leicester City.

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City fans don't need reminding of all their glorious failures in Europe's top competitions. They have been haunted by their agonising exits to Monaco in 2017, Tottenham in 2019 and Real Madrid last season.

Pep Guardiola, meanwhile, was heavily blamed for his questionable tactics in the shock defeat by Lyon in 2020 and the loss to Chelsea in the 2021 final.

But the Catalan coach is on a roll right now, having reinvented his defence and turned Jack Grealish into a selfless and intelligent player. And in Erling Haaland, he has a superhuman striker leading the line who is breaking every goalscoring record imaginable.

So is this finally City's year in Europe? GOAL breaks down the reasons why it's looking like it will be...

  1. Haaland's appetite for Champions League goals

    Haaland's appetite for Champions League goals

    Any team facing City will be having nightmares about what Haaland might do to them.

    In his last two Champions League matches alone he has six goals. He plundered a joint-record five against RB Leipzig, and would likely have got six or seven had Guardiola not taken him off with half an hour left.

    And he showed he is more than just a flat-track bully by scoring and providing an assist against Bayern, one of the best teams in the world.

    He is in an insatiable mood at the most important stage of the season, scoring 14 goals in his last six appearances and already equalling Mohamed Salah's record of 32 strikes in a 38-game Premier League season.

    And while the pressure of the Champions League can cause some players to shrink, it brings the best out of Haaland.

    "First of all to play in the Champions League, I’m proud to play in it. I love this competition as everyone knows," he said after his goal blitz against Leipzig, admitting he was "blurry in the head" after scoring so many times.

    Guardiola pointed out that scoring goals in the Champions League has not been City's problem in the past, and conceding late on has often been their Achilles heel.

    But they have missed a lot of clear chances in clutch moments. With Haaland having scored 16 goals with his last 21 shots, that is unlikely to be a problem this time around.

  2. Guardiola is in his element

    Guardiola is in his element

    How many other managers could take their two first-choice full-backs out of the team in the middle of the season and reinvent their defence so that they barely notice their absence?

    This is what Guardiola has done with Joao Cancelo and Kyle Walker.

    Cancelo had been one of City's most influential players in the two previous two seasons, but the coach suddenly decided he preferred centre-back Nathan Ake at left-back due to his defensive qualities.

    When Cancelo took issue with being left out, Guardiola sent him on loan to Bayern Munich.

    He also decided that Walker was not suited to the new defensive shape of three at the back and two holding midfielders, publicly declaring that the England star "cannot do it".

    It was a telling reminder that Guardiola never lets players get comfortable, no matter who they are.

    He has also publicly questioned Kevin De Bruyne's form and told Haaland to get more involved in the team's play, not to mention keeping the Norwegian happy despite taking him off early in matches.

    And he has not been shy of calling out the entire team, as he did with his bizarre "happy flowers" rant in January after beating Tottenham 4-2.

    Some thought Guardiola was losing his marbles with that tirade, but in fact he was reasserting his authority on the team. In the 17 matches since, City have won 14.

    They are on a roll of 10 consecutive victories in all competitions and chasing down Arsenal in the Premier League title race.

    Guardiola warned his players last week "if we lose, it's over" and is doing an incredible job of keeping them on their toes. That relentlessness could finally lead them to winning the Champions League.

  3. Ruben Dias is back to his best

    Ruben Dias is back to his best

    Haaland may have stolen the headlines again in City's win over Bayern, but the victory really belonged to the defence.

    They limited Thomas Tuchel's side to only one shot in the first half, and although the visitors did test Ederson after the break, it was mostly long-range efforts which the Brazilian comfortably saved.

    Dias was a titanic defensive wall, blocking everything Bayern could throw at his side, while Manuel Akanji and Ake were also outstanding.

    John Stones was exceptional too, switching between forming a double-pivot with Rodri in midfield and covering at right-back.

    It was not just against Bayern that the backline has been impressive, though. City have the best defensive record in the Champions League, conceding only three goals in their nine matches, and they have kept clean sheets in six of their last 10 games in all competitions.

    Late defensive lapses, such as in both legs against Real Madrid in 2022, have cost them dear in the past. But they look so solid now, their defensive shape specifically designed to give them more control at the back.

  4. De Bruyne is back in form
    Getty Images

    De Bruyne is back in form

    The Belgian appears to have a tempestuous relationship with Guardiola. He has been unquestionably the best player of the Catalan's reign, and the most talented footballer the coach has worked with since Lionel Messi. Earlier this month, De Bruyne became the fastest player to reach 100 Premier League assists.

    And yet Guardiola often seems unhappy with him, calling him out on a number of occasions this season.

    Whatever is going on, this stormy feeling between coach and player seems to be bringing the best out of the playmaker, who has nine goals and a stonking 22 assists this season.

    After a relatively quiet start to the new year by his own high standards, which saw him left out of the starting line up for the defeat at Tottenham, he has come back with a vengeance.

    He played a starring role in the win at Arsenal in February with a goal and an assist, and he is red hot form right now. In his last six matches for City, De Bruyne has six assists and two goals, including particularly dominant performances against Leipzig and Liverpool.

    He has been fuelling Haaland's goal glut and slicing opponents open with runs down both wings and through the middle.

    He is an opposition's nightmare and a team-mates' dream, which makes him an asset in these huge Champions League matches.

  5. Jack Grealish 2.0
    Getty Images

    Jack Grealish 2.0

    Grealish only played a bit-part role in the Champions League last season, not starting any of the knockout games.

    Indeed, his participation was mostly remembered for his scrap with Atletico Madrid's Stefan Savic in the tunnel and missing a big chance against Real Madrid at the Bernabeu.

    But he has found his feet in his second campaign with City, and there is an argument to make that he has been their second-best player behind Haaland across the whole season.

    It has taken a bit of time, but Grealish has been moulded into the perfect Guardiola player, working his socks off in defence - take his lung-bursting run back to foil Mohamed Salah - and doing exactly what Guardiola wants in attack.

    He is no longer an attack dog, he is one of the architects of Guardiola's winning machine.

  6. Real Madrid their only real competitors
    Getty Images

    Real Madrid their only real competitors

    City may have thought that they had got one of the toughest draws imaginable when they were paired with Bayern in the quarter-finals, but they proved no match for the Bavarians, who had sacked Julian Nagelsmann less than three weeks before the first leg.

    If they can see off Bayern in the second leg, then Real Madrid look like being the only team standing between them and their long awaited first Champions League.

    If City can beat Carlo Ancelotti's side in the semi-finals, they are set to play a team who is inferior in both quality and experience at the top level, regardless of whether that is Inter, Benfica or AC Milan.

    That's not to say City would beat Real, who are a truly formidable opponent. As Guardiola's side found out last year, you can never count the 14-time European champions out, even when everything seems to be going against them.

    But Real also have weaknesses, and even a dishevelled Chelsea managed to create chances against them, even if they failed to take them.

    Madrid have had an up-and-down domestic season too, and trail Barcelona by 11 points in La Liga's title race.

    And crucially, City would play the second leg at the Etihad, depriving Real of the home advantage which was so instrumental to their three comebacks on their way to winning last year's competition.