FC Copenhagen’s reward for their unlikely Champions League round of 16 berth is a chance to down the holders, Manchester City.
The Danes, despite their frequent appearances, hadn’t progressed into the knockout stages of Europe’s premier club competition since 2010/11, and little was expected when they were paired alongside Bayern Munich and Manchester United in Group A.
However, thanks to two crucial victories picked up at the Parken, Copenhagen beat out United and Galatasaray to advance alongside runaway group winners Bayern.
35-year-old coach Jacob Neestrup oversaw Copenhagen’s unlikely progression, and it’s he who’ll be planning to do the unthinkable over two legs against Europe’s supreme force. The Danes were competitive against the ten-man Cityzens on home soil in last season’s group stage before enduring a battering at the Etihad.
A procession of that ilk is expected when the two sides meet over two legs in the round of 16, although Copenhagen’s capacity to spring an upset means City should be wary. Here are three players that’ll be key when they take on Pep Guardiola’s side.
1. Roony Bardghji
The 18-year-old was an unused substitute when City rocked up at the Parken in October 2022. Bardghji has since embarked on a breakout campaign having teased his talents last term.
The teenager’s rise to prominence was hastened when he impressed in Copenhagen’s dramatic and pivotal 4-3 victory over Man Utd. It was his fine 87th-minute winner that downed Erik ten Hag’s ten men.
A spritely winger long touted for stardom in Scandinavia, Bardghji has been deployed across the frontline by Neestrup this term and he could operate as a Guardiola-like false nine against the Cityzens, The 18-year-old leads Copenhagen’s scoring charts this season, and he’s destined to emerge as their next academy graduate to earn a big move abroad.
Bardghji is a dynamic operator who excels between the lines when utilised centrally as a result of his masterful ball manipulation and sound spatial awareness. Rodri could see plenty of the teen in their two upcoming duels.
2. Mohamed Elyounoussi
Elyounoussi, who’s interestingly faced City more than any other club in his career, described the Cityzens as the “worst” possible draw for his side.
“There will probably be a lot of defending for us to do in that game,” he foreshadows. The former Southampton star certainly isn’t wrong, and he’ll play a key role in earning the Danes some respite.
Elyounoussi’s long been revered for his speed, and although he’s approaching 30, the Swiss international is still blessed with a handy turn of pace that City will have to contain in transition. The winger has already scored once against the Sky Blues in the Champions League – for Basel during a 2-1 victory in March 2018.
The 29-year-old scored twice during the group stage and sits among Copenhagen’s leading scorers this term with seven goals in all competitions.
3. Viktor Claesson
The veteran Swede has previously lined up as a target man against Guardiola’s side, but he’ll likely occupy a deeper box-to-box midfield role when City visit the Parken on Tuesday night.
Captain Claesson was Copenhagen’s leading scorer last season with 17 goals in all competitions, with his deployment deeper this term seeing his final third output drop considerably.
Still, the 32-year-old is a powerful customer capable of crashing the box on the counter-attack. He’s a threat in the air, too.
Exactly how effective he’ll be in transition will depend on just how much Copenhagen are suffocated by their imperious opponents, although the Swede will also play a key role in disrupting City’s build-up play with his vigour out of possession.
Despite his age, Claesson is an industrious customer who’ll run himself into the ground for the cause.