x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Man City turn focus to pipping Arsenal for third

The London club's collapse in the past two months has opened the door for City to claim an automatic Champions League place.

The previous seven days have been significant in the history of Manchester City football club.

Last Tuesday, they qualified for the Champions League for the first time. On Saturday, they beat Stoke City 1-0 to win the FA Cup, their first trophy in 35 years.

With the hard work done, they have been presented with an unexpected opportunity tonight, as they take on Stoke again in the league with the chance to move into third place with a victory, ahead of Arsenal.

The London club's collapse in the past two months - Sunday's defeat to Aston Villa was a second in succession - has opened the door for City to grab third place.

With that position comes automatic qualification for the Champions League group stages; fourth grants entry into a qualifying round. The importance of third should not be underestimated.

Gone are the days when the qualifying round was a formality for English sides - Liverpool thumped Finland's Haka 9-1 on aggregate in 2001, for example.

The qualifying rounds were reorganised last season by Michel Platini, the Uefa president, into two halves - a champions route and a non-champions route. The change was designed to allow at least some of the champions sides from countries further down the Uefa rankings a greater chance of reaching the group stages than in previous years.

Teams finishing third or fourth in Europe's biggest leagues were placed in the other half of the draw, producing heavyweight ties this season such as Celtic v Arsenal and Sporting Lisbon v Fiorentina.

It is a dangerous place to be; this season's fourth-placed Premier League team could easily see themselves drawn against Bayern Munich, for example.

David Platt, City's assistant coach, is not surprised that the club find themselves in with a shout of third spot under Italian manager Roberto Mancini.

Platt said: "I have known the man for 20 years. What people read, what people write, what people say is irrelevant to him.

"The man wants to win football matches. There's still the potential to finish third and we've won the FA Cup. He's a winner."

Stoke have little to play for tonight, but captain Ryan Shawcross has revenge on his mind for the FA Cup defeat.

"We've got two massive games and hopefully we can avenge the performance against City on Tuesday," he said.

* With agencies

10.45pm, Abu Dhabi Sports 3 & 5