It still has 90 minutes to go, but Manchester City is on to the Champions League quarterfinals. It has no need to fret about a second leg. No need to expend much more energy.
And although FC Basel was never going to pose problems for the Premier League leaders, the extent of City’s first-leg victory in Switzerland matters. Only ever so slightly. But it matters nonetheless.
Because with every blowout, every City game in March and April becomes slightly less important. The less importance, the less need there is for Pep Guardiola to run his players into the ground. That was, at one point, a worry; but with the Premier League clinched, and two-leg Champions League ties turning into one-and-dones, it no longer is.
The Citizens made quick work of FC Basel on Tuesday, winning the first leg of their Round of 16 tie 4-0. In doing so, they once again cut down on the number of matches they’ll have to play at maximum intensity.
Gundogan gets his second of the night on this BEAUTIFUL curler! https://t.co/ME6Jvkf1Pl
— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) February 13, 2018
City heads into the second half of February gunning for four trophies, and therefore with a fixture calendar stuffed to near maximum capacity. But by beating opponents 4-0 rather than 1-0, it effectively provides relief for itself down the road. City can play a reserve team on March 7 back at the Etihad without bother. Its security in the quarterfinals will pay dividends.
One of the explanations for the Premier League’s half decade of European struggles was the rigor of the league itself. The more taxing the games at the weekend, the logic went, the more fatigued teams were on those massive Champions League nights. For so long, that meant continental clubs like PSG, Bayern Munich and Juventus, walking to titles back home, had advantages against English sides.
But now City is turning the tables. It won’t have to worry about allocating limited supplies of energy and focus. Over the next two months, it will play only four pivotal games: the League Cup final on Feb. 25, an FA Cup quarterfinal on the weekend of March 17 – provided it beats lowly Wigan in the fifth round this weekend – and its Champions League quarterfinal ties in early April. With its Premier League lead at 16 points with 11 matches to go, it will be well rested whenever it needs to be.
And after the Basel trouncing, it won’t even have to worry about the second leg in early March.
City’s dominance, in that sense, is exponentially beneficial. Not only is it tightening its grasp on one trophy; it’s allowing itself to recharge for runs at three others.
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