The 2011-12 season has thus far been a fairy tale for Manchester City fans. After a close loss to Manchester United in the Community Shield, Manchester City has been on fire in the English Premier League and has won its Carling Cup matches with ease.
City’s undefeated EPL form and massive wins over top-level opposition (5-1 against Tottenham, 6-1 against Manchester United) has led to comparisons by both fans and the media between the current Manchester City side and the 2003-04 Arsenal Invincibles, as well as general praise from pundits around the world.
But yesterday, Manchester City’s magical season took a huge hit.
Manchester City lost their second Champions League group stage match to Napoli, courtesy of a Edinson Cavani double. Although the match was not significantly hyped up prior to being played, its implications now are huge for Manchester City fans: City is, most likely, out of the Champions League.
To qualify now, Manchester City would need to beat group-leader Bayern Munich, who Manchester City lost to 2-0 in Germany, and then hope that Napoli lose to Villarreal, who have picked up a point in the Champions League in all five group stage matches and have nothing to play for.
It’s not impossible, but the chances are certainly not in Manchester City’s favor.
Manchester City’s current situation raises a peculiar question: Why does this always happen to Roberto Mancini?
Three consecutive Serie A titles with Inter Milan, four Coppa Italias (one with Fiorentina, one with Lazio, two with Inter Milan), and the FA Cup with Manchester City speaks to Mancini’s mastery of domestic league football.
Yet, at the final frontier, arguably the most competitive football competition in all of football, the UEFA Champions League, Roberto Mancini has just not been able to cut it.
In his four seasons at Inter Milan, Mancini only ever got to the quarterfinals of the Champions League, and never got any farther, losing in the Round of 16 in his final two seasons.
After Calciopoli, however, and the huge reinforcements that Inter Milan gained as a result, finishing at the Round of 16 was just not acceptable for Inter Milan, and this ultimately led to Mancini’s sacking as Inter manager.
In 2006-07, in the midst of a record-breaking 17 consecutive Serie A wins and setting a record league point total of 97 points, Inter Milan was knocked out in the Round of 16 to lowly Valencia, who finished their La Liga season that year with a decent but unspectacular point total of 66 points, good for fourth place.
In 2007-08, it was a case of déjà vu: High-flying Inter Milan, who would go on to win Serie A for the third consecutive year, lost to Liverpool, who like Valencia the year before only finished fourth in the EPL that season, in the Round of 16.
At Manchester City, It has been a case of more of the same. In the less-hyped-but-still-relevant Europa League, Mancini once against lost in the Round of 16, this time to Dynamo Kiev.
So what is it then that makes Europe such an impossible frontier for Mancini?
There are a myriad of reasons that can be offered.
Some argue that Mancini simply doesn't take Europe seriously enough. Yesterday, Mancini decided to leave regular starters Gale Clichy, Micah Richards and Sergio Aguero on the bench in favor of Alexander Kolarov, Pablo Zabaleta and Edin Dzeko.
The latter three would arguably walk into all but the best starting lineups in Europe, but they still are not the best players that Manchester City have to offer in their respective positions.
Others point to Mancini's strange tactical decisions. Despite the 4-2-3-1's immense success domestically, Mancini decided to ditch it for a more traditional 4-4-2, probably hoping for more offensive flair.
This backfired dramatically, as Man City found their defense much less protected and much more vulnerable whenever Napoli attacked.
Finally, others believe Mancini is simply too negative in Europe. This is certainly supported by his tactical decisions: Micah Richards and Gael Clichy are much more offensive full-backs than Zabaleta and Kolarov, while Aguero is more offensive the Dzeko.
Furthermore, the 4-2-3-1 has allowed Man City to play its free-flowing offense to full effect this season, whereas the 4-4-2, which City used last year, frequently forced Man City to grind out 1-0 and 2-1 wins and led to many draws as well.
This may be the most valid reason, as the same negativity can be seen in Inter Milan's Champions League exits; the Italian champions scored no goals against Liverpool, and exited the Champions League on away goals against Valencia.
Going even further back, Inter Milan exited the Champions League in 2005-06 against Villarreal due to an awful offensive performance. Against AC Milan, they were once again fairly limited on the offensive end, but to be fair, AC Milan were the better team at the time.
A combination of these reasons is likely why Mancini has simply not been good enough in Europe. He is certainly one of the best managers in Europe, and if he guides Manchester City to the EPL title as expected, he will still have done very well for himself and City this season.
But if Mancini hopes to ever enter the history books as one of the greatest managers of all time, he will surely have to overcome his record of consistent failure in Europe and finally guide his team to success in the world's greatest football competition.