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Manchester City (Not) In Europe

December 5, 2012

So City bow out of Europe for another season, with the proud record of becoming the first British team to fail to win a game in the Champions League group stage. It’s fair to say it was a disappointing campaign.

City will be ridiculed for this winless set of performances, but the taunts don’t really matter, except for those into “top banter” and playground jokes. City are league champions, after all. But let’s not deny the undeniable – it was a very poor campaign for City. Whatever the costs of players, the difficulty of the group, the experience, whatever – it was poor. And it was poor throughout, none more so than the two games against Ajax, where it was mostly lost.

And Mancini has questions to answers. Forget his historical record in the competition – he is hired to succeed at City, and cannot afford another campaign like this, if he gets the chance.

As for the last game – well, after an ok 1st half with little incident, City were moribund (thanks to Alan Partridge for that word) in the 2nd half. Did they care even less than some City fans? It seems that way to a natural cynic like myself. Little tempo, or urgency, or desire. Nothing has changed. Dzeko starts and fails to shine, Nastastic looks a brilliant prospect, Balotelli falls over and gets booked for dissent, Joe Hart looks close to tears in the post-match interview. It was ever thus.

Javi Garcia. There’s little (if nothing) worse than the tendency of City fans to slag off players with every poor performance (as I’m sure fans of other clubs do too). Garcia was getting it in the neck from day one, but there’s no denying that against Dortmund he was abject. Concrete boots, sluggish, sloppy, slow, disinterested, and lightweight. This is a man that has Champions League pedigree and is on the periphery of the world’s best national football team, so he must have it in him, but for now, he is simply not ready for the first team. But worse than that, much much worse, is that Garcia’s poor performances gives people an excuse to wheel out the tedious “we should never have let Nigel De Jong leave” line out yet again. To repeat an old point – huge swathes of City fans thought De Jong to be a waste of space during his first year at City. Thank god Twitter didn’t exist 15 years ago. The police would end up talking me away from a motorway bridge.

3-5-2 became the poster boy for all of City’s ills, but I doubt very much that if City had stuck with a formation they were more comfortable with that the end result would have been much different. Whilst Mancini has found success through recent formation tinkling in the league, most notably at Wigan, playing with 3 at the back in Europe has not worked. But then, plenty of other things didn’t either. I have no problem with Mancini trying to expand the team’s options and try new things in order to progress the team, but the modern game allows no time for failure. Any perceived faults are immediately pulled to pieces, and the players given little or no time to adapt.

The sad fact is that City may only play two less Champions League games than the other English sides in the competition – or in the case of Chelsea, the same number. None of the top Premier League teams are showing any semblance of a settled, in-form team, and the standard has been underwhelming at times. There’s a bigger question to be asked here about the overall standard of THE WORLD’S GREATEST LEAGUE TM

<dramatic sigh> Time to mention the commentary. It’s hard to continue the endless criticisms of football commentary without having the paranoia tag attached to me. But good lord, we are not liked. Maybe I don’t see it when watching other teams, but I don’t expect commentators to show more excitement when the opposition team attacks than when City do. Is it too much to ask for some support? At least some neutrality would be a start.
Incorrect offside decisions against City were met with silence, attacks met with indifference, more excitement garnered discussing Germany’s coverage of the royal pregnancy. Alan Smith was cynical throughout, culminating in him deriding the referee for not booking Aguero for an innocuous foul caused by trying to block a clearance.
But worst of all was the constant (and it was constant) parroting of the fact that City were losing to a Dortmund reserve side. No mention was made at any point of the swathe of City first-teamers not starting the match.
This drivel was repeated by Jamie Jackson’s piece in the Guardian, which claimed that Silva was the only first-teamer not starting for City against Dortmund’s reserves (I guess Yaya Toure, Aguero, or any of our left-backs don’t count as first-teamers anymore), and that all six games were “capitulations”. Just how do you capitulate to a draw? Ask Jamie, he knows.

It was no better in the studio. Sometimes clubs are successful without spending big money and big money signings flop. Live with it. That is football. Some teams gain an element of success without spending big. Kudos to them. Jeff Stelling though thought it perfectly fair comparing Lewandowski’s cost of £4m with £25m Balotelli, and other City “misfits” were also lined up against their cheaper Dortmund competitors.  Funny he didn’t mention the cost of Kompany or Hart or Clichy or Zabaleta…….
As for Dietmar Hamann and Ruud Gullit, the less said the better.

Europa League or not? There are pros and cons to dropping into the Europa League of course, but if you actively wanted City to lose against Dortmund, I would hope you find a new team to support soon. There is no doubt that City’s premier league campaign has just been strengthened, but that’s not to decry any type of European competition, and it would have been a great trophy to win.

History has decided that City have never won a proper Champions League game, in the same way that Mancini never properly won a Serie A title. It seems that any City victories in the Champions League don’t count. Bayern Munich sent a reserve side, so the win was irrelevant, whilst Villareal were rubbish last season, and eventually relegated, so those victories don’t count either. Strange then that other English teams don’t get their wins chalked off when drawn against the likes of Nordesjlasdesland* or Plovdiv Tractor Collective XI*. I guess their greater history afforded them those easier ties.
* these teams may not exist.

Let’s not shower too much praise on the other teams in City’s group. Real Madrid are 3rd in their league, 11 points off the top. They won’t be retaining their title. Ajax are 4th, four points off the top. They face a struggle to retain their title. Borussia Dortmund are 3rd in their league, a mere 11 points off the top. They won’t be retaining their title. Maybe this is further proof that the Premier League is not all it’s cracked up to be, but the fact is that like Napoli last season, the teams City have played have certainly thrown a lot of their energy into the Champions League competition, and paid the price domestically. But that’s being a bit harsh on Dortmund – a fantastic team, who could go all the way.

God help Mancini if City lose the derby on Sunday. Probably best to avoid any newspapers or the internet for a few weeks.

Buy my Manchester City: 2011/12 Season Review in Kindle form here:

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