After a period of domination from sides from La Liga, the bookmakers put Manchester City as the team most likely to win the Champions League – a daring move
It might be their flawless start to the season, it might be because they have an outstanding manager and it might be because they have enough money to buy several small countries and quite a few large ones, but the bookmakers have installed plucky Manchester City as favourites for the 2018-19 European Cup.
It’s arguably the first time an English side has been expected to win the trophy since their readmission to the competition in 1991.
From 1977 to 1984 it seemed the English team merely had to turn up to win, but the Champions League era has seen just four victories for the self-styled “best league in the world.”
All of them could classed as upsets, even in 2008 when Manchester United played Chelsea in an all-English final that both teams were trying their hardest to lose.
🏆 Outright Champions League odds:
— BetStars (@BetStars) September 18, 2018
Of that game’s world-class players, Didier Drogba got himself sent off, Ronaldo missed United’s third penalty in the shoot-out and John Terry slipped as he missed Chelsea’s fifth, punting what would have been the winning penalty somewhere in the direction of the Urals.
This final was decided by possibly the most Nicolas Anelka moment of all time, when the French striker, was asked by his manager Avram Grant to take Chelsea’s seventh kick. His response was incredulous: “That’s out of the question. I have come on, basically as a right back, and you want me to take a penalty?”
Perhaps exhausted from the 21 minutes he’d spent on the field, Anelka duly took a penalty he later said he knew he was going to miss. While Terry wept, Anelka looked about as bothered as man who’d just been told off by a supply teacher, although remarkably he would go on to even greater achievements in the field of global, personal humiliation.
In the three other finals to have produced English winners since readmission, the English teams have been ahead for precisely 78 seconds, the time that elapsed between Ole Gunnar Solksjaer scoring the winner for United against Bayern and Pierluigi Collina blowing the final whistle.
For most of the previous 92 minutes United had been nearly as dire as Liverpool in the first 45 minutes of the 2005 final, a match they still looked more likely to lose than win right up until the shoot-out started.
Chelsea didn’t look like winning the 2012 Champions League until the moment they did and of the losing English finalists, Liverpool played the 2007 final against Milan like a team who knew they’d pulled off a heist two years earlier and weren’t likely to get away with it a second time.
Manchester United were twice outclassed by Barcelona in 2009 and 2011 and although Arsenal were in front for a dizzying 39 minutes against Barcelona in 2006, not many Gunners fans in the section I was in in the Stade de France seriously thought they’d see it through.
City’s status as the bookmakers favourites has to be seen in the context of the “patriotic pound” but they still look the likeliest of the English challengers.
United will go out in the group stages and sack Jose Mourinho, after an incident in which the manager attempts to self-immolate during a press conference. (Chelsea will then win the Europa League under caretaker manager Jose Mourinho.)
Tottenham will go out in the second round, probably on away goals at Wembley (let’s face it, that new ground isn’t opening any time soon), having already commissioned a special DVD, narrated by Kenneth Branagh, to commemorate their 1-0 win in the first leg at either Bayern or Real.
And Liverpool will produce a blistering 45 minutes of football in a semi-final against Barcelona or Juve and take a five-goal lead into the second leg, which they’ll just about survive before losing the final thanks to a refereeing decision that will eventually become the subject of a five-part Netflix documentary series.
Against Manchester City.