Where It Went Wrong for Manchester City in the Champions League

Terry CarrollContributor IIIDecember 5, 2012

Where It Went Wrong for Manchester City in the Champions League

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    Roberto Mancini has often seemed inscrutable when asked what went wrong with City in this year's Champions League.

    This is City's second successive failure in their only two appearances in the competition. Despite that it doesn't seem as if his job is at risk. Luckily he doesn't have Roman Abramovich as manager.

    This doesn't change the fact that there is a woeful disparity between their ECL and Premier League performance, where they remain unbeaten in the latter.

    When you think about it, maybe that is a comment on the Premier League itself. You've got United sitting top with a dodgy defence; Chelsea in meltdown under their worst nightmare as a manager; Arsenal in free fall and Liverpool struggling to rebuild.

    Then you look at the Champions League and City are the only English team ever to fail to win a Group match. They haven't qualified; Chelsea probably won't; and Arsenal slipped to second place against Olympiakos for heavens sake.

    And United didn't come up smelling of roses last season either, with a shambolic exit at the hands of Basel.

    Gone are the days when England could count on four teams in the knockout stage.

    Tonight's performance summed it up

    But back to City. The Dortmund match this evening had all the elements that sum up City's departure and some worrying signs that could come back to bite them in the Premier League.

    OK so City have at times played some sparkling football in the ECL this year, but they have also been their own worst enemies.

    The general pattern sums it up: Dortmund won their matches at home and drew away (as well as their win at Ajax); City drew at home and lost away.

    But the problems were clear in the first match when Real Madrid came from behind to win in the Bernabeu. Mancini was supposed to sort them, but he hasn't and City have drifted steadily away from qualification.

    Which is also what happened tonight. They started both halves brightly and fell away, particularly after Dortmund scored, which seemed to knock the wind out of them. They briefly revived with the arrival of Aguero, but Balotelli was on another planet again and Dzeko's departure left a vacuum of endeavour.

    If City had held on to win that first match against Real Madrid they might have sailed through to qualification on euphoria. Instead they looked tonight as if they weren't sure if they even wanted to qualify for the Europa League.

    Maybe Dzeko summed it up in the Sky Sports interview before the match when he appeared to indicate that City would rather win Sunday's Manchester derby than qualify for the Europa League.

    This leaves them with a couple of problems: a second successive year of spectacular failure for the Etihad "Galacticos" will not go down well with the owners and doesn't fit the "project" blueprint.

    And their failure does nothing for their "European profile", which determines their seeding next season. So they may yet again end up in a "Group of death". 

    There will have to be changes before then or they can expect a similar outcome. Could that include the manager at the end of the season, whether or not they win the Premier League?

    Anyhow, let's briefly consider the possible key factors involved in this year's failure. 

Getting or Holding a Lead

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    It all started here. 

    City played outstandingly well in the Bernabeu and shocked Real Madrid by twice taking the lead. But not only did they fail to hold it, they also lost the match in the dying moments with poor defending.

    To have crushed Real Madrid in their own backyard would surely have set them off on the crest of a wave, believing they could beat anyone in the Group. But instead, one by one, their opposition ground them down.

    And when push came to shove, the fight wasn't always there.

    It didn't helped that six times they conceded first or lost the lead. That's not like City. But you have to ask yourselves why, in the latter stages of the Group section, they had to be under the cosh to look dangerous?

    Why do they start bright and fade away, and why does Mancini end up bringing on the shock troops to get a result? Is he preoccupied with the following weekend matches? Wouldn't it be better to start with your best team and take the key players off once the result is sewn up?

    Surely that way they would have had the Group sewn up as well.

    But there are other reasons.

The Pressing Game

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    This photo sums it up. It was in evidence from the start of tonight's match. Dortmund played for 90 minutes with passion, intensity and a will to win. They played as a team rather than a bunch of individuals.

    They fielded seven second choice players and won the match comfortably. If you didn't know the teams, you would have concluded that Dortmund were the team who wanted, nay needed, the result. They deservedly won the Group at a canter and are serious contenders for the Champions League.

    Last season they finished bottom of their Group, but the difference was that they had collectively learned from that savage disappointment, whereas City have slumped to ignominious failure. They have probably been saved from further embarrassment by not even qualifying for the Europa League.

    And it started with the "pressing game." Dortmund are masters at it.

    In both the matches between the two teams, City dominated possession but the German team had territorial advantage.

    At the Etihad, City had 64 percent of the possession, but Dortmund had 67 percent of the territorial advantage.

    How can that be? 

    Dortmund pressed from the moment they lost the ball. They pressed City in numbers in the Manchester club's own half. 

    City didn't help by ponderously bringing the ball out of defence while their opponents pinged it around like a pinball, attacking them at pace.

    And that wasn't just true tonight as the goalscoring attempts shows.

Not Creating Enough Chances

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    Manchester City played 14 internationals tonight, even though they were resting the likes of Silva and Toure for the derby on Sunday.

    Their squad is chock full of expensive, talented and experienced footballers. They have a frightening strike force, possibly the strongest in Europe, let alone the Premier League.

    And yet, with the possible exception of Tevez (who worked his socks off) and Aguero after he came on, they hardly looked like scoring tonight.

    Why was that? Because it's been largely true in the whole competition this year. OK, so they've scored seven goals in six matches, but that was never going to get them qualified and it goes back to the chances they are creating.

    Against Everton on Saturday, City had seven attempts on goal. Tonight they had six. In the whole of the Group stages they have averaged less than nine per game, with five on target. Dortmund's second team had 13 attempts tonight.

    This is a problem that has to be solved. City can't go on relying on the efficiency of their strikers if they aren't creating enough clear cut chances; like United can't go on relying on their strikers to dig their defence out of a hole.

    Yes, the Champions League is a step up in class, but it is the trophy for which City exists. The only person who can sort it out is the manager, but he's creating problems of his own.

System and Organisation

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    OK so he has a coaching team, but ultimately it's his responsibility and he seems to be calling the shots on tactical organisation.

    Zonal marking is an unconvincing tactic, and at times City's defence have been left looking at each other as if to say, "How did that happen?"

    Then there is the saga of three at the back. It ought to work in Europe. Barcelona make it work. It ought to work in the Premier League. Wigan Athletic make it work.

    But City seems to be all at sixes and sevens when it comes to threes or fours.

    This was most evident in the second match against Real Madrid, at the Etihad. City started with 3-5-2 and were a goal down after ten minutes. It was a shambles. They re-organised to 4-3-3 and were a different team, but too late.

    But its not really about the system, it's about whether the players understand it and can play it. Sir Alex has also run into trouble messing around with tactical formations until a granny from Rochdale told him to ditch the diamond.

    "If it ain't broke, don't fix it..."

    City has a powerful squad of hugely talented players who, when they're let off the leash are frightening. Why, for example, doesn't Yaya Toure play in an offensive role for 90 minutes every match? He's devastating.

    Or is it the "Catenaccio" streak left in all Italian managers? Even Benitez has caught it: shore up the back first and then try and score goals.

    Dortmund has looked far better organised than City in both matches, and far better motivated, so maybe City should be looking at Jurgen Klopp rather than Pep Guardiola.

Passion and Intensity

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    Carlos Tevez was outstanding tonight, as was Sergio Aguero when he came on.

    They play with passion and intensity, which could hardly be said of the rest of the squad. 

    It seems somewhat ironic that Tevez was almost sacked for not wanting to come on against Bayern Munich a year ago, but now he is the driving force.

    While his team mates plodded unimaginatively out of defence, Tevez had to come deeper and deeper to start the attacks.

    This was a stark contrast to Dortmund who played with passion and intensity throughout the team. They attacked in packs and defended in packs.

    City played, attacked and defended largely as individuals and, together with individual errors, such as Rodwell's earlier, this has been too much of a pattern this year in the Champions League.

    That passion and intensity starts and ends with the manager.

    And unlike Jurgen Klopp, who stood in the technical area all night, shouting, clapping and laughing with and for his players, every camera shot seemed to show Mancini slumped in his seat. And that has been true too many times this season.

    Where is the passion that Mourinho shows, for example, driving his players on?

    And how much money do you have to be paid a week to show passion and intensity as a player, like £4 million Robert Lewandowski shows compared to £27 million Edin Dzeko?

That's All for Another Year Folks!

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    And who better to sum up the two extremes of City? The shadow and the light; the problem and the solution.

    Vincent Kompany oozes passion and intensity. He is the utter professional. What must he be feeling right now? He did nothing wrong. He drives his team forward, but he can't play everywhere.

    He is carrying a knee problem. It hurts, but not as much as the Champions League humiliation does.

    And any football fan can feel how Joe Hart is hurting. These are top professionals who play for the shirt, every minute, week in and week out.

    And then there is Mario Balotelli. When he came on, you just knew he was going to sum up City's night.

    The other hanging question is whether Mr Mancini actually knows his best team? He's messing around with the tactics and rotating the squad to try and find a winning formula.

    Meanwhile, on limited resources, David Moyes and Tony Pulis are ordinary blokes who have never won anything, managing a team just outside the top four, with passion and intensity and a will to win. 

    By any stretch of the imagination City have woefully under-performed again in the Champions League.

    You can't just blame the "Group of Death". Last season Dortmund didn't even reach the Europa League finals. This year they might just win the Champions League.

    The team that won tonight cost £32 million, beating an opposition that cost £156 million, before Aguero and Balotelli came on!

    Who do you blame? Frankly, everyone. The manager must carry the can. He's been given almost unlimited resources and though he's won the Premier League, the project is about winning the Champions League.

    And you also have to blame the players, with a few notable exceptions above.

    Maybe you can also blame a project that relies on attracting very expensive players by paying them lots of money, rather than relying on players who would die for the shirt.

    Tonight Jurgen Klopp fielded a team largely brought through as young players. Mancini had a player bought from Shrewsbury Town when he was 19 and not one player was home grown in City's Academy.

    So which is the model that works? Dortmund and Klopp or City and Mancini?