EPL

Man City reach the top of European football while fighting financial charges

By Sports Desk December 14, 2023

After years of near misses, 2023 was when everything came together on the pitch for Manchester City and they finally got their hands on the Champions League trophy.

Their triumph on a glorious June evening in Istanbul, sealed with a fine Rodri strike against Inter Milan, capped a memorable campaign in which they also retained the Premier League and won the FA Cup.

It was a treble achieved only once previously, by Manchester United, and City left their rivals in no doubt as to where the power now lies along the way as they swatted them aside at Wembley.

Ilkay Gundogan scored the fastest goal recorded in an FA Cup final, after just 13 seconds, as City prevailed in an all-Manchester showpiece that was more convincing than the 2-1 scoreline suggested.

The manner in which City won the title was just as impressive, clawing back an eight-point deficit in the spring to overhaul Arsenal, the highlight being a stunning 4-1 defeat of the Gunners in April.

The intensity of that performance was matched over two legs against Real Madrid in the Champions League final, with the 4-0 win at the Etihad Stadium leaving few in any doubt this was a side destined for greatness.

Erling Haaland finished the 2022-23 campaign with an extraordinary 52 goals to his name yet the story of City’s season was of a fine team tuned to perfection by Pep Guardiola.

But a large cloud still hangs over the club, after they were charged with 115 historical breaches of financial regulations by the Premier League in February.

Elsewhere, Manchester United returned to trophy-winning ways by claiming the Carabao Cup and Newcastle emerged as a new force by snatching a Champions League spot.

West Ham won their first major trophy since 1980 as they triumphed in the Europa Conference League, a success that finally earned silverware for their veteran manager David Moyes. Beating Fiorentina in the final also provided a fitting farewell for Declan Rice, who later joined Arsenal.

Everton evaded relegation by the skin of their teeth with Leicester facing the drop instead, just six years after winning the Premier League. Luton, a mere 10 years after playing in the National League, defied the odds to win promotion.

Celtic won the domestic treble north of the border while on the international front, England and Scotland both qualified for Euro 2024. Wales will hope to join them.

The women’s game was dominated by the World Cup in Australia. England enjoyed a fine run to the final but fell at the last hurdle as Spain took the glory in a game that became overshadowed by post-match controversy involving Spanish Football Federation president Luis Rubiales.

The Women’s Super League was won, for a fourth year in succession, by Chelsea.

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    Austria flew out of the traps in Berlin as Poland struggled to get an early foothold, and Ralf Rangnick's team led within nine minutes. Phillipp Mwene delivered a pinpoint cross from the left, and Gernot Trauner powered his header home at the near post.

    Poland should have levelled within nine further minutes, only for Nicola Zalewski to lift a wild effort over the crossbar. However, they did get their equaliser on the half-hour mark.

    A fortunate deflection off Trauner saw the ball fall to Krzysztof Piatek, who kept his composure to slot into the bottom-right corner and reward Poland's improvement.

    Having missed last week's defeat to the Netherlands with a thigh injury, Poland talisman Robert Lewandowski was introduced from the bench on the hour mark, but it was Austria who regained the lead seven minutes later through Baumgartner.

    Arnautovic dummied Alexander Prass' ball infield, allowing Baumgartner to send Wojciech Szczesny the wrong way with a composed finish from the edge of the box.

    Arnautovic then made the points safe from the penalty spot with 12 minutes remaining, converting into the bottom-right corner after Marcel Sabitzer had raced clear and been felled by Szczesny.

    Austria should have had a fourth late on as Konrad Laimer shot across the face of goal after rounding Szczesny, but their victory means avoiding defeat against the Netherlands next Tuesday would likely send them through to the last 16.

    Data Debrief: Arnautovic on the spot

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    A surprise inclusion after being benched for Austria's 1-0 loss to France, the Inter man led the line impressively, winning seven of his nine total duels and drawing three fouls.

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    Julian Nagelsmann wants his Germany team to stay perfect as they aim to top Group A at Euro 2024.

    The hosts secured qualification for the last 16 by dispatching Hungary 2-0 last time out, following on from their 5-1 demolition of Scotland.

    Their final group match sees them take on Switzerland, who are two points behind in second place, meaning a defeat for Germany on Sunday would see the Swiss top the group.

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    "Do not expect to have seven changes to the team. I can rule that out now."

    Germany's match with the Swiss will take place in Frankfurt, where England and Denmark played on Thursday, with both sides struggling with how the pitch chopped up.

    Deniz Undav, however, says teams simply have to adapt to the surfaces.

    "There a still a few days left, so maybe the pitch will improve until then," said the forward.

    "But you have to be able to adapt to the conditions. We want to win on Sunday. So, whether we play on grass or stones, we have to win."

    Switzerland's Xherdan Shaqiri, meanwhile, knows his team must expect the sternest of challenges.

    "We know we are now up against a team that is of a different calibre with their super attack and the euphoria [as hosts]," he said.

    "But we are going into the game with confidence and look forward to it. Obviously, we want to trouble the Germans."

    Opta's supercomputer makes Germany favourites to win the group, with a 77% likelihood the hosts finish top.

    PLAYERS TO WATCH

    Switzerland - Xherdan Shaqiri

    Only Cristiano Ronaldo has scored in more major international tournaments than Switzerland forward Shaqiri, who has now netted at each of the last six such tournaments since and including the 2014 World Cup.

    In fact, Shaqiri is the only European player to have scored at the last six major tournaments.

    Germany - Jamal Musiala

    Musiala is aiming to become the first Germany player to score in each of his nation's opening three games at a major tournament since Miroslav Klose at the 2002 World Cup, and the first ever to do so at the European Championship.

    Aged 21 years and 118 days when this game is played, he would be the second-youngest player ever to do so for any nation, behind only Peru's Teofilo Cubillas (21y 94d) at the 1970 World Cup.  

    MATCH PREDICTION: GERMANY WIN

    This will be Switzerland and Germany's first encounter at a major tournament since the 1966 World Cup; West Germany beat Switzerland 5-0 in the group stages. They also met in the 1938 and 1962 World Cups.

    Germany have won each of their last three games at major international tournaments by 2+ goals (4-2 v Costa Rica, 5-1 v Scotland, 2-0 v Hungary) with the Netherlands at the 1974 World Cup the last nation to record four such victories in a row.

    They are aiming to become the third host nation to win all three of their group stage games at a single edition of the European Championship after the Netherlands in 2000 and France in 1984.

    Meanwhile, they would be the first host team to do so at a major international tournament since the Germans themselves at the 2006 World Cup (Excluding Euro 2020 - 11 host nations).

    However, Switzerland are unbeaten in their last three matches against Germany (W1 D2), with those three matches producing 16 goals, an average of 5.3 per game. The Swiss had lost 16 of their previous 18 matches against the Germans (D2), so they should certainly not be discounted.

    OPTA WIN PROBABILITY

    Switzerland - 23.5%

    Germany - 52.3%

    Draw - 24.2%

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