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UEFA Champions League

It's now or never in the Champions League for Manchester City veterans

ESPN FC's Paul Mariner and Mark Donaldson deliver what they think will be the results of the first leg matches this week in the UEFA Champions League.

This summer's arrival of Pep Guardiola at the Etihad is likely to bring to an end to the Manchester City careers of a group of players that have been pivotal to the club's recent success. Question marks hang over the futures of some of the club's biggest names with the Bayern Munich boss expected to rejuvenate a squad full of 30-somethings to get them ready for a new high-tempo and demanding system.

Any of Yaya Toure, Pablo Zabaleta, Aleksandar Kolarov, Martin Demichelis, Jesus Navas, Gael Clichy, Bacary Sagna and even David Silva could be on their way out of the Etihad if Guardiola feels they aren't good enough to fit into his master plan.

Whatever happens, their collective status as club legends would seem secure. They've been instrumental in arguably the most successful era in the club's history as City secured four domestic honours in four seasons: two Premier League titles, an FA Cup and a League Cup. It could yet get even better with a Capital One Cup final to come on Sunday and the Premier League still to challenge for despite a six-point deficit with 12 games remaining.

However, if that group has any regrets over wasted opportunities, City's failure to make an impact in the Champions League must surely top the list. Silva, a World Cup and European Championship winner with Spain, admitted in January: "The thing that's still missing, that I haven't got my hands on, is the Champions League. That's something I'd still love to be able to do."

Bad luck, missed chances and catastrophic decision-making have all played their part in the club's European failures throughout the past five seasons in the Champions League, where they have failed to get beyond the round of 16.

It starts with UEFA's coefficient rankings system, which has seen City playing catch-up from the very beginning. Clubs' coefficiency points are taken from the past five seasons and, due to a lack of European experience, City have been among the second or third tier of ranked sides in each group draw.

That has seen them draw a team from Germany each time, a side from Spain three times and an Italian club a further three times -- meaning that nearly three quarters of their group matches have been against sides from the biggest three leagues they could face. And in each of the two times they have reached the knockout stage, they've drawn an experienced and brilliant Barcelona that have twice given them a brutal European lesson: knocking them out in clinical fashion.

Yaya Toure
Will this be Yaya Toure's last chance to win the Champions League at Manchester City?

On top of that, there's been the odd bit of a misfortune. In their first Champions League campaign in 2012, they picked up 10 points but became the first English team to miss out on a place in the knockout stages having amassed that total. And last season, City became the first European side to win five games and not top the group; although manager Manuel Pellegrini should take some of the blame, having to failed realise that another goal in their final group game against Bayern Munich would have seem them leapfrog the German side. Instead, the Chilean took off striker Edin Dezko and left Aguero on the bench as he settled for a 3-2 win in the Allianz Arena.

This year, their fortune seems to have changed for the better. While their Group D was tricky, it was a relatively kind draw as they avoided all the European heavyweights, drawing Juventus from the top seeds. City were beaten twice by the Italian side, but crucially won at Sevilla and Borussia Monchengladbach to clinch top spot in the group as Juve stuttered.

A round-of-16 clash with Dynamo Kiev is a relatively kind draw and with City at home in the second leg, they will go into the tie as favourites. Pellegrini is wary of being too overconfident, though, as he knows only too well from his time at Malaga -- who reached the quarterfinals in 2013 -- that underdogs can prosper.

He's quoted as saying in the Mirror: "If we think that it will be easy then, for sure, we will be eliminated. I will always put up the example of Malaga. Everyone wanted to play us because they thought it would be easy, but we beat some good teams. The performance and the result is the important thing, not the team we are playing. We must play a very good game if we want to qualify."

But Pellegrini is certainly prepared to make the competition a priority, foregoing the FA Cup by putting out a weakened team in the fifth-round defeat to Chelsea and leaving Silva, Toure, Vincent Kompany, Aguero, Fernandinho and Joe Hart out of the side. And his side are struggling to maintain a title challenge having lost to Premier League top two Leicester City and Tottenham Hotspur at home in their past two games.

The Chilean will leave at the end of the season and some of his ageing players will follow. This is their last chance for success in Europe, and it's also the best opportunity they've ever had.

Jonathan is ESPN FC's Manchester City correspondent. Follow him @jonnysmiffy.


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