Man City’s Euro hopes are dashed
As Roberto Mancini and his charges were finally ushered from the pitch on Tuesday evening - their cries of injustice dissipating into the cold Manchester air as the officials beat a hasty treat - littered on the turf of The Etihad Stadium was the remnants of another disappointing Champions League campaign.
November 9th, 2012
Sure, City are still able to progress from Group D (‘D’ very much standing for death in this case) but it would take a series of results that would confound skilled mathematicians, and be subject to City doing something they have yet to do in the competition: win. Even if City players left themselves a mountain to climb in last season’s competition, they did at least manage to get to the 10 point mark that usually guarantees progression. This time around, however, the maximum they can achieve is eight points; this only if they beat Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund, two sides who played out a fascinating pair of games as City stumbled against Ajax.
The likelihood is now that City faces a battle even to get in the Europa League; all too widely regarded as Europe’s consolation prize but a tournament City will need to go far in to maintain a coefficient ranking that is currently holding them back.
Questions about who or what is to blame have been plentiful this week; with the Mancini-led narrative clearly driving the tone of the many articles published in the wake of another disappointing result, but is it more realistic to ask whether City’s lack of success in the Champions League is all that unexpected?
The widely regarded Euro Club Index illustrates this perfectly, showing that whilst City are the fifth ranked club in Europe their group contains the second ranked club (Real Madrid), the ninth (Borussia Dortmund) and 23rd (Ajax). In total, the rankings from Group D total 37. Even a cursory glance around the other groups for comparison evidences quite how tough the task facing City is – and Jose Mourinho has already talked about whoever does progress struggling in the knock out stages due to the exertions of simply finishing in the top two.
If the draw for the competition had been kinder, City could well have drawn in Group A (with Porto, Paris St. Germain and Dinamo Zagreb) or Group F (with Bate Borisov, Bayern Munich and Lille) and despite being a second seed (the only English champions to not be a top seed by the way) both of these groups are undeniably easier to navigate than the task they were instead handed.
As Simon Gleave also noted, this is akin to City playing a group with the strength of opponents being Manchester United, Chelsea and Tottenham. There is no doubt that City’s opponents have been overlooked. The status of Real Madrid is unquestioned, but Borussia Dortmund caught many by surprise and Ajax, as impressive as any Premier League opponent City have faced this season, were widely written off – with the recent pair of games identified as those that City could target for maximum points.
This is not to say that questions shouldn’t be raised of City’s performance. Throwing away late leads at The Bernabeu meant that they got off to the worst possible start, whilst they were fortunate to survive Mancini’s tactical tinkering. But against Ajax, as impressive as their offensive play was, no team will go far if they have to contend with making the elementary defensive errors that gifted their opponents’ goals in the manner that City did.
It is far too easy (convenient), however, to simply paint the picture as City (or more specifically Mancini) being unable to cut it in European competition. As Gabriele Marcotti points out, it is foolish to suggest that a manager who has proved to be so successful in domestic competition somehow finds the European stage beyond their capability, especially when the closer reality may be that City simply came up against that at the very least ranked alongside them.