Could Manchester City finally put their 33 year major trophy drought to bed this season by winning the UEFA Cup this season? Why not, what with Ajax crashing out last night at the hands of Marseille and Zenit St Petersburg and CSKA Moscow losing today, the competition for the trophy is getting into the nitty gritty stage and it seems to be opening up for City. Mark Hughes side has been wildly inconsistent, putting 6 past Portsmouth and 5 past Hull City, but dumped out of the League Cup by Brighton on penalties and were humiliated at home 3-0 by Nottingham Forest in the F.A. Cup but they’ve been impressive in the UEFA Cup both at home and abroad this season. With only one away win in the league, it’s been a strange season for the City faithful.
Tonight they travel to Northern Jutland to face Aalborg with a 2-0 lead and a chance to move into the Quarter Finals for a real crack at the trophy. Yet, Manchester City have a history of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory which is unparalled in English Football that has seen their fans develop a very healthy ability to laugh at themselves. Surely this could be their season to finally put a proper smile on faces of the City faithful? It’s certainly a weaker UEFA Cup than it could have been with AC Milan, Aston Villa, Tottenham, Fiorentina, Bordeaux and Valencia all being removed from the competition before we even reached the last 16.I don’t think Mark Hughes will be upset to see any of those sides out at all. Their first 11 is certainly as good as some of the remaining teams in the competition, maybe one of the best, so it’s not impossible to imagine City lifting the trophy in Turkey on May 20th.
City though have perhaps received a little too much stick this season for me. Sure they’ve become the richest club in the world but it’s still a transitional season for them. Thankfully for us, Chief Executive Gary Cook seems to have kept a very low profile after his rather childish comments about AC Milan and Kaka in January, which is a blessing for us all. His rather acidic nature and bombastic attitude doesn’t sit well people and attracts as much criticism as it deserves, but Hughes has also had a fair amount of flak, unfairly I feel. It’s a learning curve for everyone at Manchester City, ever since the Robinho signing, they’ve suddenly moved onto a different level but they’ve got their best chance of some serious silverware for a long time in the UEFA Cup.
If they can negotiate tonight’s away leg, which knowing City, is no forgone conclusion, then the key teams to avoid are Werder Bremen and whoever wins in the tie of the round, Galatasaray v SV Hamburg. Martin Jol’s team have a lot to do and need to score in Turkey tonight to have any chance to get through but if they do, then they’ll become the favourite for the cup. If City can avoid those teams, then reaching the final becomes a realistic proposition for Mark Hughes. I hope they do get there, he’s dealt with rumour and counter rumour all season with supreme patience, fending questions about his future, transfers, ongoing issues with certain big name players and the change in expectations once Manchester City were ought by the Abu Dhabi United Group, with courtesy.He deserves a bit of luck after everything that’s been thrown at him throughout the season.
I wish them all the best in Europe and hope we get a Hamburg and Manchester City final for the last ever UEFA Cup final before we welcome the Europa League next season.