Around a year ago today, Manchester City were chastised for an unsuccessful début UEFA Champions League campaign, picking up just three wins and crashing into the Europa League with only ten points. How Roberto Mancini’s men would take that situation this year, finishing their group rock-bottom with a new English low.
City’s fate was sealed long before last night’s group finale against table-toppers Borussia Dortmund. Five points adrift of progression to the knock-out stages, their only hope was to pick up their first win of the European season against a strong German team, gifting them another pass into Europe’s second-string competition. Fast-forward an hour into the match and it was abundantly clear that City had no chance. Ajax had left the door open by being 3-0 down by the time Julian Schieber took the lead for Dortmund, but the English side never looked like reversing their fortunes and finished their campaign worse than it had begun.
Manchester City’s haul of just three points from a possible 18 and zero wins from six has been rightly bigged up as the worst performance by an English club in the Champions League, beating the former record holders Blackburn Rovers. An argument could be had that City had the toughest group of the whole first round, but to not win a single game isn’t on. They are an expensively-assembled, title-winning side full of international players. They’re no strangers to success on English soil, so what is it about a trip over to Madrid or Amsterdam that proves so tough?
Of course, there’s a distinctly different feel about the City of last year and the one of now. Despite the whole mess surrounding Carlos Tevez and his refusal to play, Man City consistently looked infallible, with teams whole-heartedly fearing them. In the end, the title spiralled down to the last minute, but it had been won earlier than that on goal difference with thumping wins earlier in the season. Attacking runs were led by the talent of Sergio Aguero and Yaya Toure, but the defence was never left unwatched with Vincent Kompany and Joe Hart leading the line. City may still be just three points from the top of the Premier League table, once again with superior goal difference, but there’s just that feeling that nobody rates them as serious contenders, somehow. All four of the above players have floundered for the majority of the time, with nobody coming in in their place to turn things around. A European side populated with Scott Sinclair, Gareth Barry and Joleon Lescott hardly inspire fear in the rest of the world.
Manager Roberto Mancini has insisted that he doesn’t feel embarrassed by their European exit, but he should be. He says their side tried, but trying hard doesn’t necessary bring home the trophies, especially when these try-hards are earning hundreds of thousands of pounds a month. They can now concentrate on the league, almost certain of a place in next year’s Champions League. Unfortunately, with such a pitiful display in Europe and a similarly hard group awaiting them next season, they may as well just give up the ghost and try qualifying the Europa League, instead.
Before last night, I would have pointed at Arsenal and praised them for staying strong in Europe whilst everything’s crumbling down around them at home. Alas, ten minutes of a dire performance in front of a markedly stronger Olympiakos made me quickly reach for the remote and watch the snooker, such was the boredom on offer.Admitedly, Rosický’s goal was brilliantly taken with the selfish Gervinho strangely providing the perfect assist. They may have already qualified, but a limp performance means they have a much tougher task ahead of them in the last 16. What calamity would befall English football should Borussia Dortmund, Group D winners and City’s tormentors, be the ones to vanquish Arsenal on their march to the Wembley final.
Manchester United and holders Chelsea continue their European campaign tonight with fixtures against CFR Cluj and FC Nordsjaelland, respectively. Whilst United are safe in the knowledge that they have already qualified against the odds with a shocking defence, Chelsea need other results to go against Juventus in order for them to avoid the ignomy of being the first holders not to reach the knockout stages. Beating the Danes should be a straight-forward task, although I wouldn’t put anything past Benitez’s haphazard bunch to muck up the most important night of their season, so far. The real problem is Shahktar versus Juventus, which ended in a draw last time. Should that happen again, it’s Chelsea’s turn to say goodbye Champions, hello Europa.