In their Group E clash against AS Roma on Tuesday, familiar issues struck Manchester City as their struggles in the UEFA Champions League continue.
[RECAP: Chelsea beat Lisbon, PSG top Barca]
Without a win from their opening two group games of the 2014-15 UCL campaign, their upcoming back-to-back games with CSKA Moscow are now crucial if Manuel Pellergini’s men are to advance to the knockout stages for the second-straight season. They sit five points behind Group E leaders Bayern and three points behind Roma with a trip to the Italian capital still to come.
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The fact that last season marked City’s first-ever trip to the knockout rounds of Europe’s elite club competitions sets up the story. They just haven’t performed well in the Champions League since they qualified for the first time back in 2011-12.
With a galaxy of superstar players such as Sergio Aguero, Yaya Toure and Vincent Kompany, plus a manager known for success in European competitions, Manuel Pellegrini, City’s floundering performances just don’t make sense.
Let’s try and break this down and get to the bottom of their European struggles.
Time and time again groans came from the home fans as City were forced to pass backwards and sideways. They could not dictate the tempo as Roma, like many other UCL teams, waltzed into the Etihad Stadium and set the tone. Even though City scored early on against the Italians, instead of inspiring confidence in its players the goal seemed to put them on the back foot. Roma equalized soon after and only when Pellegrini changed formations by replacing Edin Dzeko with Frank Lampard to create a 4-5-1 did City gain control of the game for the final 20 minutes. Maybe going for a 4-5-1 home and away in Europe is the way forward for Pellegrini’s men to gain control of games like they do in the Premier League. After the game City midfielder James Milner, who come on at half time to try and stop Roma’s counter-attacks summed things up: “We didn’t play at our best but we had a fair few chances and could have nicked it. We never played at our tempo which teams find hard to deal with. They [Roma] are well organised and we didn’t do enough.”
Lack of belief
To be saying this is a bit of a joke but this group of players, most of which have won the PL title in two of the past three seasons, seems to be lacking in confidence. Right now, Yaya Toure is playing like a cowering cat compared to the marauding lion who drove City onto PL success last season. Vincent Kompany had another bad night in Europe on Tuesday and Joe Hart’s slip gave Francesco Totti the initiative for Roma’s equalizer. Aguero scored a PK but did little else and there seemed to be a lot of hands on hips, heavy exhaling and looks of dismay from City’s players. Too many times their big-name players have failed to shine in Europe as Yaya Toure has now had two terrible performances to open up his UCL campaign as Fernandinho did double work to cover the Ivorian in midfield.
Until Man City reach the latter stages of the UCL, I’m talking semifinals or final, then they will continue to be dealt a tough draw in the group stages. That is down to their old friend, the UEFA coefficient. That gem measures the success of a club over the past five season in European competition and City were ranked 17th in Europe in terms of their success in the continental competitions since 2009-10. That means that unless they reach the late stages of the knockout rounds, they will struggle to move out of pot 2 and into the top pot which would therefore give them a better (in theory) chance of qualifying from the group stages. Is that pressure getting to the players? After being knocked out at the group stage for their first two UCL campaigns, their coefficient would take a huge hit and they may drop into pot 3 if they failed to make at least the last 16 this season.
On more than one occasion, City have come unstuck in Europe due to Pellegrini’s slightly strange tactics. Yes, we are talking about the 3-2 win away at Bayern last season in the group stages where he demanded his team to sit back… even though one more goal meant they finished top in the group and avoid playing Barcelona in the knockout stages. D’oh! It took Pellegrini 60 minutes to change his tactics on Tuesday as Dzeko was pulled for Lampard and City looked so much more fluid as they almost grabbed all three points. Look, Pellegrini took Malaga to the UCL semifinals in 2013 and Villarreal to the final four in 2006. Both Spanish clubs are tiny in comparison to City and it seems as though the weight of securing success and silverware in Europe from City’s demanding but incredibly supportive (especially financially) owners may be getting too much for the Chilean to handle. After winning the Premier League last season, success in the Champions League is City’s number one aim this term and so far, even though there are still four group games left, it’s not going well at all. Same old story for the Citizens.