Bayern Munich 2 Manchester City 3: Some Thoughts
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.
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.