Manchester City’s defeat to Barcelona in the first leg of the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 on Tuesday was deja vu for most City supporters.
Here are 7 reasons why Manchester City keeps getting exposed in the Champions League:
1- Tactical Naivety
Manchester City has built a deep squad to compete on multiple fronts in domestic competition. However, in Europe, the idea of playing with two strikers is simply madness at this level. Time and again, Manchester City’s midfield has been overrun by better opposition. It happened in September 2013 against Bayern, again in February 2014 by Barcelona, in October 2014 by CSKA and finally on Tuesday again by Barcelona. Manchester City’s holding midfield players are not dynamic or mobile enough to cover all of the ground needed to make up for a shortage in midfield.
2- Lack of Discipline
The Blues have a history of indiscipline in recent FA Cup and European matches. Each of the three knockout stage games City has played versus Barcelona has seen a Blues defender sent off. Yaya Toure’s inexplicable and frustration-induced sending off against CSKA in October led to a three game suspension and virtually made impossible City’s task when they drew Barcelona.
3- Lack of Player Pedigree
Manchester City has in Yaya Toure a Champions League winner. But if you get beyond him, the club has very few players that have ever made a major impact at the continental level. It isn’t just the club that lacks the recent history of its rivals – it’s the players. For all the brilliance of David Silva in the Premier League, he’s often had a hard time showing the kind of creative spark needed in Europe.
4- Defensive errors
Manchester City, even when winning the Premier League, has been prone to mind numbing defensive errors. While in the Premier League against midtable opposition, you might sometimes get away with such mistakes, in Europe you simply do not. Vincent Kompany’s decline in form has been noticeable, and save the aging Martín Demichelis, the Blues do not have a consistent central defender in their ranks. Both Gaël Clichy and Pablo Zabaleta have been in poor form recently, while Aleksandar Kolarov cannot be fully trusted to man mark effectively in a big match.
5- Lack of Pace
The Blues are unable to counter-attack effectively without Jesus Navas and Yaya Toure on the pitch. This is in fact nothing new and often times even when City has numbers going forward the attack bogs down with too many touches or a misplaced pass. The poor counter-attacking form of City has been noticeable since Manuel Pellegrini took over the club. The last classic counter-attacking goal the Blues recorded in Europe was in Madrid during a September 2012 match against Real. On that occasion, Yaya Toure started a quick break and Edin Dzeko scored a goal with a sublime finish. To date, that remains the only memorable counter-attacking goal Manchester City has recorded in Europe against eleven man opposition.
6- Poor Set Piece Taking
Manchester City has scored a grand total of two goals off corners this season despite having won the most corner kicks in Premier League play. These problems have continued in Europe – often David Silva or James Milner fails to even beat the first defender with corners, thus the Blues have resorted more and more to short corners that often get bogged down with slow passing, and poor decision making in the same manner City’s open play in the final third has proven ineffective.
As a Manchester City supporter, I will be the first to admit that UEFA competitions are never high on my list of priorities. Before the club was competing for domestic honors every season, the occasional UEFA Cup trip was exciting. I still count the two-leg tie against Hamburg in the 2009 UEFA Cup Quarterfinals as some of my great memories as a Blues supporter. However, since winning the FA Cup in 2011, the focus of myself and other supporters has shifted from the novelty of Europe to the payoff of domestic league and cup competitions. Simply put, we do not believe our squad is strong enough to win silverware in Europe while doing a domestic double as the club did last season is always a realistic goal.
Even this week, many supporters saw the upcoming match at Anfield as far more critical to defining this season than a midweek home match against Barcelona. To put it bluntly, we know that, despite lavish spending, we are not Real Madrid or Barcelona. But beating anyone in England, under any circumstance has now become an expectation.