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Manchester City face new Champions League obstacle as third seeds

By Ian Herbert

Manchester City's hopes of making any immediate headway in the Champions League have hit a fresh hurdle as Uefa's new rules for next season's competition confirm that the club may be relegated to the third tier of seeds if they qualify.

With little evidence that the club are looking to do anything but either persist with Manuel Pellegrini or turn to Patrick Vieira as manager - while waiting for Pep Guardiola's availability in one year's time - City could face both Guardiola's Bayern Munich and Real Madrid in the same group next season.

That is a result of Uefa pressing ahead with plans for a seeding change to reward national league winners - making the titleholders in the seven highest-ranked countries plus the defending Champions League winners the top seeds in each of the eight groups.

The new rules, confirmed yesterday, are also likely to punish Arsenal and Manchester United, by relegating both to second seed status. But City - who will face a tricky Champions League qualifying round draw unless they displace United in third place in the Premier League - are likely to slip to third seeds, based on their probable position outside Europe's top 16 clubs in the governing body's rankings. City have dropped out of the top 16 according to the latest co-efficients.

Juventus and Porto have both climbed into the top 16, squeezing the Etihad side out.

Despite their position as defending Premier League champions, the club's continued struggle in Europe and a difficult domestic season have damaged their ranking.

The new seeding system should elevate league-leading Juventus and Zenit St Petersburg to top seeds, plus France's champions - with Chelsea likely to be the British representative among the elite group.

If the Champions League victors also win their national title then the eighth top-seeded team will be the recently-crowned Dutch champions PSV Eindhoven, who are ranked 30th in Uefa's club standings.

On present placements, Arsenal, Atletico Madrid and Porto will drop in status in the August draw. Arsenal were seeded first in their group this time round, ahead of Borussia Dortmund, Galatasaray and Anderlecht, as were Atletico and Porto.

Though City had expected this news, it comes as another blow at a time when obstacles to their development keep materialising. Any scintilla of hope that Guardiola might be willing to leave Bayern for the Etihad this summer vanished with the 6-1 annihilation of Porto on Tuesday night.

The sense remains at City that talk of a Pellegrini sacking may be premature.

Though Napoli manager Rafael Benitez is ready to take on a Premier League job again, there is no sense that City have been tempted by his extraordinary European record - which he will defend against Wolfsburg in the Europa League tonight.

Belfast Telegraph


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