Whilst City try to inch into the group's top two, Manchester United and Chelsea have started the competition well, and can more or less assure their progress with wins in the next couple of matches. This will not only give them a chance to rotate players in the last two matches, it also gives them the chance to focus on the Premier League. With the title race already looking likely to be between the three of them, this can give them an early advantage over Manchester City.
Of course there is no guarantee that the Champions League form will directly affect the league. Last year City struggled at the same stage of the European competition whilst going through their most imperious run in domestic football. But last year's group were almost a complete disaster for the English sides, with the Manchester sides both crashing out, and Chelsea's poor away form making it hard for themselves, so there was no difference in how the three sides could approach the competition's group stage. This year could be different; if Chelsea and Manchester United can guarantee progress early they will deal a psychological blow to Manchester City that could translate to domestic football.
They will also be able to rotate and rest players. Many star players at the three clubs have had busy international summers, and avoiding a couple of midweek trips around Europe should help them in the subsequent Premier League matches. This isn't going to be a huge advantage, but bearing in mind the league was decided on goal difference last year, the smallest edge could be vital.
Most importantly of all, the weekend after the final Champions League group match, Chelsea host Manchester City at Stamford Bridge. If Chelsea have already topped their group they will be able to keep their best eleven fresh for the City game. City have no real hope of being in that position and will have to field their strongest side at home to Real Madrid.
Football can be a game of small margins, a game where amassing enough little advantages over your opponent throughout a season can give you a decisive edge. If Manchester United and Chelsea can send City a message in Europe, it may resonate in the Premier League.
image: © Julian Mason