In the past, when Manchester City reached the knockout stage of the Champions League, I always wondered in the back of my mind what would go wrong this time?
Not anymore. The mentality that Pep Guardiola’s team is currently showing is one of the reasons I think it could be different this year, and their style of play this season is different.
In recent years, City have stepped out of the Champions League into teams they should really beat: Monaco, Tottenham and, last summer, Lyon.
On top of some stupid mistakes, they sometimes paid the price for changing the way they played in the Premier League, with Pep accused of overthinking to face his own opposition threat.
There have been cases where such tactical training has worked naturally, such as City’s win over Real Madrid at the Bernabeu at this stage of the competition 12 months ago.
This time, however, the formation they used during their relentless 18-game winning streak means they controlled the games and look so solid on their backs. There really is no need to change anything now.
Instead, I just want to see City bring the same ostentation and confidence we see from them every week in their performances in Europe, starting with Borussia Monchengladbach on Wednesday in the first game of the last 16 games.
Is this the year of the city to conquer it for the first time? Can be. To be honest, I look at the German side and the other teams that stayed in the competition, and where everyone is, and I don’t see anything to be afraid of – actually just the opposite.
Instead of City being afraid of other teams and individual players – which may have been the case before – this year everyone else in Europe will be afraid to face them.
A fourfold chance – can City win them all?
City’s return to the Champions League comes with 10 points at the top of the Premier League, in the FA Cup quarter-finals, where they face Everton, and a date set with Tottenham in the Carabao Cup final on 25 April.
People are already talking about fours and asking me ‘can I win them all?’
For me, on the other hand, it is still a little early to be excited about such cleaning.
We already know that Pep is the serial winner from the trophies he collected in his time in the City and elsewhere, but since they are realistic, it will be extremely difficult to take all four, not only because of opposition in their way, but also because of their schedule. will be so demanding in the next three months if they continue to chase fame on all fronts.
The good side is that midfielder Kevin de Bruyne and striker Sergio Aguero have returned to the squad and are on their way to full fitness, and defender Nathan Ake is their only injured player.
The strength of the city in depth will be a key factor in the win, but it seems that Pep already handles that side of things extremely well – everyone seems happy when they get in and out of the team, and the really encouraging thing is that whoever plays on top of their game.
‘Don’t break out the city until you’re too tired to fight back’
Pep made five changes to beat Arsenal 1-0 on Sunday, no doubt keeping in mind the game in Budapest on Wednesday, but that didn’t throw City out of their step.
He has already adjusted the way City plays, because they used to be a high-pressure team with everyone who ran a lot, at a great pace.
You can’t do that this season because it would burn the players, so instead of constantly trying to carve out the chances, it’s a case of ‘starving the ball’s opposition’.
Works. City doesn’t try to keep the knockout blows, but they just hit you all the time – until you’re exhausted to fight back.
There are simply no concessions and, although this city team does not share opposition, as some of Pep’s senior teams at Etihad Stadium have done, they are far more consistent.
They don’t look tired yet either, even with the number of games they’ve played in recent weeks, and I hope that can continue. That could make a big difference, especially in Europe.
In the past, I’ve often felt that like Bayern Munich or Paris St-Germain they had little advantage in the knockout rounds of the Champions League because they are usually dead by this stage of the season to win their home league – meaning they can play a little in their league games and rest people.
The city itself is in that situation now, with a decent pillow at home, and hopefully I can really benefit from that.
Micah Richards spoke with Chris Bevan of BBC Sport.