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Bayern Munich 2 Manchester City 3: Some Thoughts

December 11, 2013

Well I will be honest – I didn’t see that coming.

A dead rubber, a match that didn’t matter – that was the public line and the line I had taken to give myself a relaxing night in front of the television. Nothing to lose after all, as we would be finishing second in the group and there was merely pride at stake.

But with Arsenal on the horizon, there was a general consensus not to play our strongest side and Pellegrini certainly agreed. The team was similar to how I had envisaged, and I had no problem with it.

But then I changed my mind, because I saw their team and everything went horribly wrong. So the following match thoughts have been split into two sections:

1. After 15 minutes:

There is logic in playing a weakened side, for obvious reasons, but was it really sensible to pair Demichelis and Lescott in central defence against the best team in Europe? This may be portrayed as a meaningless game, but an absolute caning would not only be embarrassing but possibly damaging to the players and manager.

Here is a back five of whom none of the players may be at the club in a couple of years. And I can see why.

Joleon Lescott especially had a horrendous first fifteen minutes. He resembled a rabbit in the headlights, as did many of his colleagues. The second goal was appalling defending. More slapstick defending almost resulted in a third goal.

And thus we see what happens when you put English players in the team. James Milner continues to frustrate me – I really just don’t believe that, for all his qualities, he is of a standard to take this team forward.

But for Joe Hart, some sympathy. You get the feeling he has been thrown to the wolves tonight.

2. At Full-time: A Road To Damascus Conversion

What a turnaround. What bottle from the City team.
Let’s be honest. After a quarter of an hour, every City fan on the planet expected a huge defeat, a morale-sapping spanking, a result to reinforce Bayern’s superiority over City, a score that would put us firmly in our place.

But the response from the team was everything you’d hope for and probably least expected. Slowly they found their way back into the game, slowly they saw more of the ball and kept hold of it, pushed Bayern back, and got their rewards. Bayern Munich had a strong five minutes before the break, but offered little in the second half. The vagaries of the qualification rules left us with the bizarre situation of Bayern Munich  holding the ball in the corner despite the fact they were about to lose their long unbeaten home record, but you can understand their logic. Topping the group was always their priority.

James Milner eh? Two assists and a goal, he was superb for the final hour and proof that knee-jerk reactions about players are to be tossed away into the ether where they belong. His distribution will always frustrate me sporadically, but he clearly brings other things to the table. And he’s English!

(And yes, five English players appeared on the pitch at some point. The media will no doubt go to town over this.)

And then there was Fernandinho, who was excellent as always, as was Joe Hart, Javi Garcia, who did just fine, not that many City fans will admit to it and of course Pablo Zabaleta, who was magnificent after replacing Richards.

But more than anyone, step forward David Silva – welcome back. For all of Samir Nasri’s superb play over the past few weeks, what a joy it was see the diminutive Spaniard back on the pitch. He is simply a class above.

But then there is also Micah Richards. His tweet apologising for getting injured was almost heart-breaking and he will be hurting in more ways than one today. We all want him to stay fit and be a success, to be a part of all of this, but he is injured so easily it is becoming untenable to pick him. It pains me to say it, but the team performance rose significantly once he was replaced by Zabaleta (though it’s harsh to put it down to this one factor). His future at City is only assured because his injury record prevents anyone buying him. I desperately hope he can turn things round.

PARANOIA KLAXON!!
Manuel Pellegrini unwittingly diverted attention away from the match (much more on that later), but that aside there was yet again a pathetic level of coverage of City’s amazing comeback. At half-time Graeme Souness (one of my favourite pundits) said the 2-1 score line flattered City (it did not), but it was Glenn Hoddle that truly took the biscuit at full-time, the usual tactic used of calling the opposition poor rather than daring praise City instead. To turn the paranoia-meter up to 11, I wonder how coverage would had differed if United had pulled off a similar performance, or Arsenal for that matter. Whilst Dan Walker of the BBC dared buck the trend by calling it one of the top five away performances by a British side in the Champions League (kudos to Henry Winter also for his compliments), Raphael Honigstein could see no positives in City’s performance in what was a dead rubber, despite the Times’ Tony Barrett’s attempts to point out how much belief this could give a side that may previously have been carrying around an inferiority complex in Europe.

Naturally the majority of newspapers made United’s 1-0 victory over Shaktar Donetsk as their main story on the back pages, because…well, I’ve no idea to be honest (sells more papers I guess).

I’ve given up talking about Niall Quinn.

Typical City lives on and the club manage to travel to Munich and contrive to get the press talking about something other than the result. Again. Pellegrini’s post-match comments, coupled with James Milner’s later on have certainly caused a stir in the press and amongst City fans. Whilst you cannot fathom how none of the coaching staff were aware that City only needed one more goal to top the group, the comments of Pellegrini, even if they were in pigeon English, left me in little doubt he thought City needed to score five. There is always the possibility of course that he has been misinterpreted, but his English is not that bad, so I doubt it. You can understand City not expecting a match scenario where a fourth goal could take us through for the simple reason that the scenario was so, so unlikely, but it is gross amateurism if (IF) the club were not aware of the options as the match drew to an end.

We can argue until we’re blue in the face about what the coaching staff may or may not have known, but the introduction of Jack Rodwell with three minutes to go surely reinforces the notion that Pellegrini was not looking for another goal. Of course, football is not so simple that simply introducing another striker means more goals will come and changing the shape of a team can be more productive sometimes, but once City found themselves a single goal away form topping the group, to not bring Aguero on at any point seems ludicrous.

Maybe Pellegrini doesn’t care who we meet. Maybe victory meant more to him than topping the group, his first ever victory over a Pep Guardiola team at the 11th attempt. Either way, you’d expect an engineer to grasp simple mathematics. The spirit of Alan Ball lives on.

(As for the argument that it doesn’t matter anyway, because no-one will want to play us (Carlo Ancelotti – “City are the most dangerous rival in the upcoming draw”) and you have to beat the best teams to win the competition, that is nonsense. You stand a much better chance of winning the Champions League if you only come up across two top teams than if you have to beat four.)

Still, it seems many are wise after the event.

Barney Ronay 9th December: City need to beat Bayern by three clear goals in their own indomitable illuminated doughnut of a stronghold to overhaul them at the top of Group D rather than simply qualify in second place.

Barney Ronay – 11th December: At the end of a dramatic night it seemed a shame a misunderstanding of the rules should overshadow a fine result, however briefly.

Typical City lives on elsewhere too. Having achieved the feat of elimination from the group stages with ten points, City have now broken all records by finishing second in a group with fifteen points (two points more than our previous two campaigns combined). Bravo!

With the Ballon D’or on the horizon, how fitting it would be if Franck Ribery gets nowhere near the award (as will surely be the case). A bigger cheat you could not hope to see, making Ronaldo seem almost angelic in comparison. The clutched knee/pained face/I think I’ve been shot impression is wheeled out at least five times a game in an attempt to get an opposition player cautioned/dismissed. In more ways than one, he knocks me sick.

Some stats? OK then. This was the first time in 38 years that Bayern had lost after building a two-goal lead at home. It ended a run of 10 consecutive Champions League victories and 18 consecutive home victories for Bayern. Travel-sick Manchester City finish the group stage with three away victories, despite only having 40% of possession against Bayern.

And then there’s the money. 5m euros in bonuses and a boost to City’s coefficient means there is more to results like this than a bit of pride.

But surely the greatest joy in all of this is the bitter blue in me cocking two-fingers at every person Bayern-related. From their tax-dodging president to their arrogant executive chairman, they can stick their David Conn eulogies where the sun don’t shine, the fan-owned club took one hell of a beating (ok, a small one). They are the Manchester United of Germany, and their hoovering up of the best talent is anything but fair. The TV pictures of their glum faces in the closing stages because for once everything wasn’t going their way was a truly beautiful sight. This wasn’t in the script.

Sunderland > Bayern Munich.

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6 Comments
  1. nick g permalink

    Typical City. Taken in isolation, one of the greatest victories in the Club’s history, but a result that has no bearing on qualification for the knock out stages and therefore is meaningless in the context of this year’s Champions League.
    Our dozens of enormously paid executives and coaches were incapable of fathoming the intricacies of the group stage rules, and with [more than] shades of Alan Ball, we saw out the last 7 or 8 minutes thinking that the desired result was still way beyond us, when throwing on Sergio alongside Dzeko and Negredo, and punting a few balls into the box maybe could have given us the 4th CRUCIAL goal.
    Never mind. We will never know what it could have meant (though if we lose in the next round to one of the big teams it will be used to beat Pelligrini up.

    HOWEVER

    We saw last night a lot of what we have been missing for most of the last 2 years. We missed it at Soton on Saturday, Sunderland a few weeks ago, all the other away defeats this year, at Wembley in May and countless times last season.
    After 15 minutes they were looking down the barrel of a momentous caning, but they turned it round not so much through individual brilliance, but team effort and energy aka PRIDE IN BATTLE.

    At last the likes of Dzeko et al put in performances to match the imperious Pablo Zabaleta. There was running, tackling, battling, kicking and pace – all absolutely essential to avoid the almost certain defeat.

    Now it is laid bare just how much the squad have been resting on their laurels since May 2012.

    AND

    Is this the watershed moment for City’s European campaigns? We have seen dozens of half-ar5ed performances stretching back to the Keegan days, with City winning games when given the chance, but not bothered enough to go and grab them when they had to.
    No wonder the general fan interest in Europe has never got beyond “Meh” – we’ve barely ever seen a decent performance from the team.
    Until last night.

    We expect exactly the same on Saturday and every week thereafter.

    Two other things:
    Bring back Joe Hart, before we regret not doing so. Pants is adequate, Joe Hart is world class.
    Sad to see Micah Richards limp off last night. That may be the last time we see him in a City shirt. Heart of a lion but his football career is currently on the slide. He needs a change. We need a better challenger to PZ.

  2. szyszkojad permalink

    Great read, as always. I think that this match was about much more than a top spot in the group and of course, almost all media and fans of other clubs do their utmost to bring this win down to futile fatigue (“City fail to top the group”).

    I was watching the game with a friend, who is Arsenal fan, and after first quater I told him that this could become double-figure carnage. He said that City deserve it for having no ambitions (his excact words).

    How wrong City proved him to be and, God, how much this win meant to me. After countless times I read about a “bilion pound team that fail to prove it’s worth”, a team without spirit, without ambition, without history (the best claim of them all) and pathetically underachieving. Of course this is only one win that did not even change the table, but I was always concerned this season and last one about how weak our “second XI plays” and how we are unable to play our game away from home – and this win made me believe one more time. We beat champions league winners at their own place after going down 2-0 with Dzeko, Kolarov and Garcia on the pitch (which all of them I criticized beyond believe for the last couple of months and how glad I am that they proved me wrong) – an occurrence on whichI would not bet a penny before. I am looking forward to the rest of the season and I hope that team spirit is as high as mine at the moment.

  3. Graham Ward permalink

    Great piece, Howard. I, too, share your thoughts on the Bayern management and support, after hearing the views prior to the match of a German Bayern fan on the ‘Blue Tuesday’ BBC Radio Manchester programme.
    Arguably our greatest night in European competition, apart from winning the Cup Winners Cup all those years ago, and ideal preparation for the game at the weekend against Arsenal – should be a cracker.
    Sunderland > Bayern Munich…..ROFL!

  4. Obviously a 4th would have been preferable, however I am not sure going gung ho was worth the risk of not winning. Last season we were winning in Madrid and blew it, this time were were very composed and the increase in confidence should be marked. Given a choice I would like anyone but Real, Barca could end up with a fist fight in the boardroom which would be excellent.

  5. nick_aka_ permalink

    “city must win by 3 goals to finish top of the group” was parrotted ALL OVER the media prior to the match… still, we can trust our esteemed journalists to admit to this common error, can’t we?
    Pardon my language but they can all get to fuck. Lying bastards to a man.

  6. Paul Prac permalink

    French Stick!

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