Roberto Mancini’s men currently edge derby rivals Manchester United as favourites to win the Europa League. And while on paper City’s squad is by far the strongest of all the teams left in Europe’s second tier competition, this does not necessarily translate into guaranteed success. The Eastlands outfit faced a difficult task in getting past the holders but they have ultimately showcased their credentials with a 6-1 aggregate success. Questions have been raised about their away form, but the Premier League leaders dispelled any lingering doubts last week with a 2-1 victory at Estadio Dragao – one of the most imposing grounds in European football. And City backed that resilient performance up with a measured display at the Etihad Stadium on Wednesday, helped by Sergio Aguero’s early goal.
Every great side needs a special player, and City’s is Sergio Aguero. True, Mancini’s side is brimming with talent – Mario Balotelli, David Silva, and Yaya Touré all bring a sprinkling of magic to the Eastlands outfit. But their diminutive Argentine is simply unplayable at times – as highlighted against Porto on Wednesday. The 23-year-old calmed City nerves with a neat finish after just 19 seconds. And the former Atletico Madrid striker came close to adding a second when he raced on to Silva’s chipped pass and dancing past Porto’s goalkeeper before shooting from the edge of the area, only to be denied by the crossbar. The Argentina international turned provider when his incisive pass provided Edin Dzeko with the chance to finish and secure City’s passage into the next round.
Porto sold prolific Colombian striker Radamel Falcao to Altetico Madrid in the summer after the 26-year-old smashed Jurgen Klinsmann’s record of 15 goals in the Uefa Cup in 1995-96, netting 16 times during Porto’s journey to the Europa League final last season – before scoring the all-important winner in Dublin. And his absence was notable against City on Wednesday, as Porto brought plenty of flair to proceedings and created chances in abundance, but lacked a clinical edge up front. Falcao has already scored 19 goals for his new club in Spain – and when Porto analyse their premature exit from the competition, the lack of an out-and-out goalscorer will be largely to blame.
Chelsea manager André Villas-Boas has recently been linked with a swoop for Hulk – and the striker could certainly go some way to solving the Blues’ lack of creativity. The powerful Brazilian forward reportedly has a release clause of £84m in his Porto contract, which is sure to make Roman Abramovich baulk at the possibility of signing the 25-year-old. He may not boast the most impressive goal record – he has scored 11 times this season – but his ability to beat defenders and deliver a dangerous cross would be most welcome at Stamford Bridge. He was Porto’s stand-out player on a miserable night in Manchester for the Portuguese champions.
Although it clearly still lacks the draw of the Champions League, the heavyweights currently competing for the Europa League have added prestige to Europe’s second-tier competition this season. The holders, Porto, battled bravely in an attempt to retain their crown but City proved too strong. And with United on the verge of beating another European great, Ajax, the prospect of the two Manchester clubs meeting in the final becomes a real possibility, provided they avoid each other in the quarter-finals and semi-finals. It would be a tantalising game between England’s top two sides, and a dream final for Uefa.
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