MANCHESTER — Fans of Manchester City have seen this all before.
Following on from disastrous UEFA Champions League campaigns in the past, the Citizens crashed to a demoralizing 2-1 defeat to Juventus on Tuesday at the Etihad Stadium.
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City lead with 20 minutes to go, but in their opening Group E game, past demons came back to haunt them as Manuel Pellegrini‘s side collapsed.
Here are three things we learned from the Etihad.
SAME OLD STORY FOR CITY
For most of the match on Tuesday, City huffed, puffed, forced the issue and got into good position but failed to carve Juve open. The Citizens went ahead in controversial fashion as Vincent Kompany clambered all over Giorgio Chiellini and the Juve defender scored an own goal in the process. 1-0. Had City’s luck in Europe finally turned? Think again. Juve showed why they came close to being Champions of Europe last season, as the 2014-15 runners up and reigning three-time Champions of Italy bullied their way back into the game. First Paul Pogba (more on him soon) produced a moment of magic to tee up Mario Mandzukic for the equalizer, then Alvaro Morata provided the kind of moment he is becoming known for, as the Spaniard was in the right place at the right time to curl home the game-winner. In truth, City looked jittery throughout and if Raheem Sterling had converted two gilt-edged chances in either half, they would have been home and dry. Juventus look composed in possession, didn’t panic and pounced when opportunities arose. Manuel Pellegrini had the injured Sergio Aguero on the bench and in his absence Wilfried Bony labored in attack and didn’t look Champions League caliber. Why not play Kevin De Bruyne from the start and use either KDB or Sterling as central strikers? Pellegrini’s tactics played into Juventus’ hands and he was forced to take off skipper Kompany — who reportedly suffered a calf injury — in-between the two Juve goals. That did little to help the nerves growing among City’s fans and players, with their penchant for collapsing on big European nights coming to the fore once again against a classy Juventus outfit.
If it’s any consolation to the runaway early season leaders of the Premier League, their neighbors from across Manchester lost away at PSV Eindhoven. Only that result could slightly lighten the mood on another dark night for the Citizens as their quest for continental glory took another hit. Their two toughest games in Group E will be home and away against Juventus, but just like in years gone by, City will have to claw their way back into contention against Sevilla and Borussia Monchengladbach in upcoming matches. They can still qualify, this is no hammer blow, but it was certainly a reminder that despite all their spending, they’re still playing catch up to Europe’s elite.
POGBA VS. TOURE: PASSING THE TORCH?
Paul Pogba played like a man with something to prove at the Etihad on Tuesday, with his duel against Yaya Toure one of the highlights of the match. Pogba, 22, was linked with a $110 million move to Manchester City and Chelsea throughout the summer and the young French midfielder came up against the man many City fans hopes he replaces in the coming years: Toure. Both way over six-foot tall, Toure and Pogba were two colossal figures who went blow for blow in central midfield. Toure showed his experience early in the first half as Pogba looked to have evaded him but Toure’s telescopic leg somehow retrieved the ball in a sliding tackle. They marked each other at set pieces and followed one another around but Toure often sat back deeper with Pogba reminding City fans of the marauding menace Toure was during the 2013-14 title winning season. Despite Toure being 10-years older than Pogba, the Ivorian held his own against the younger, sleeker and more mobile Pogba. The latter has suggested his time at Juve may well be up next summer as Barcelona, Chelsea and City clamber to snap up the Young Player of the 2014 World Cup.
Pogba’s class shone through with Juve 1-0 down in the 70th minute. His delightful cross to the back post was inch-perfect and found Mario Mandzukic who tapped home to make it 1-1. Add an extra $10 million to that pricetag. On this showing, Pogba confirmed what many of us already knew. He is ready for the Premier League. Despite a wayward shot in the second half which was met with the chant of “You’re just a s*** Yaya Toure!” from City’s fans, it’s clear Pogba could perfectly fill the considerable shoes of Toure when his time at City is up. Now, will City shell out $110 million, sorry, $120 million, next summer to get him?
STERLING STALLS; BUFFON’S BRILLIANCE
Raheem Sterling’s pace and trickery often gets him in to incredibly advantageous positions in and around the opponents penalty box, but the 20-year-old winger just doesn’t score enough goals for the incredible opportunities he gets. Sterling was played clean through by Fernandinho after two minutes but hit his shot straight at Gianluigi Buffon when in acres of space. Then just after City had taken the lead, Sterling was again played clean through as Silva slotted him in but Buffon again saved Sterling’s tame effort down low. The second was the tougher of the two chances, but Sterling’s low conversion rate throughout his career suggests he must continue to work on his finishing if he’s ever going to shake off that astronomical transfer fee of $75 million which City paid Liverpool for his services this summer. Sterling has scored just 24 times in 133 club games. If he had converted two key chances in this game, it would have made all the difference.
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Buffon’s brilliance stopped Sterling on both occasions and made a superb stop from Silva on the follow up from Sterling’s second missed chance. The 37-year-old goalkeeper also made a fine fingertip save from Toure in the dying stages, securing a crucial away win for his side on the road in what will arguably be their toughest match in the group stages. After a difficult start to the Serie A campaign, the Italians will head back to Turin with a spring in their step as the buffer Buffon provided was, once again, as a solid as a rock.