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Man City still learning to perform in Champions League is baffling

Following Manchester City’s 1-1 home draw with AS Roma, questions are being asked about the reigning Premier League champions’ ability to perform in the Champions League.

Prior to the contest against Roma, City manager Manuel Pellegrini was asked about his squad’s chances of winning the European tournament:

“I am absolutely sure that Manchester City will eventually win the Champions League,” the Chilean boss responded. “It’s not the death of the club if we don’t win the Champions League this year. But I hope that this year we improve again.”

After witnessing City play second best to Roma for long spells at the Etihad on Tuesday night, most supporters would likely ask their manager when this set of City players will turn the corner and start performing on a consistent level in the European competition?

For the fourth time in successive seasons, Manchester City have failed to win their opening home group game in the Champions League.

While the draw against Roma isn’t a death sentence for the club, Manuel Pellegrini’s side have a tremendous amount of work to do over the final four matches of the group stage in order to ensure safe passage into the Round of 16 of the competition.

This is a position the English side have found themselves in since they returned to the Champions League during the 2011-12 season. City have finished in third, fourth and second in their Champions League groups since their return to the European tournament.

Last season, Manuel Pellegrini was able to rally his troops as Manchester City made a late charge to escape the group stages. But this club has been built for European football and it has performed inconsistently for far too long in this tournament.

Roberto Mancini was fired after four seasons in charge for failing to improve City’s Champions League fortunes – as well as for his ‘negative’ tactics and poor man-management skills. Pellegrini was then brought in for his entertaining style-of-play, and on the strength of his previous season’s European success. The Chilean boss guided Malaga to the quarter-finals of the competition in 2012-13, where they lost to the eventual Champions League finalist Borussia Dortmund.

Pellegrini is only in his second season with the club, so he can’t be expected to turn Manchester City into group winners overnight. Especially when they keep getting drawn against Europe’s top clubs in the opening stages of the tournament. But at some point this group of players has to start showing a Champions League ‘identity’.

Prior to Matchday One of the competition, AS Roma had been absent from the Champions League for three seasons. The Serie A side then opened their European account by defeating CSKA Moscow at home, 5-1. They then traveled to England – with a squad weakened by injuries – and held the reigning Premier League champions to a 1-1 draw.

City and Roma both possess players with previous Champions League experience, and both have managers who are working on their second season at their respective clubs. But Rudi Garcia’s side looked more comfortable under the bright lights of the European night, and looked the likeliest to accompany Bayern Munich into the Round of 16 of the competition.

Pellegrini’s tactics have been questioned. Pundits who once thought Roberto Mancini was being “too negative”, are now saying the club is “too open” in Europe; thus leaving the team exposed in defense.

The talented players who have been brought in and signed to lucrative, long-term contracts look as if they all suffer from a collective self-doubt in the Champions League. As a whole, the squad performs with a lack of conviction which is strange for a side that possesses so much quality and European experience.

So what is holding Manchester City back from performing consistently in the competition? Are these players just not mentally strong enough to handle the pressures of European football? Is this team good enough for England, but simply not good enough to beat Europe’s best teams regularly? Is Manuel Pellegrini a step up from Roberto Mancini, but not the man to lead City to Champions League glory?

The questions are baffling.

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11 Comments

11 Comments

  1. MntD

    October 1, 2014 at 12:59 pm

    Peter – what role do you think being a soulless team play have in this?

    • John Thomas

      October 1, 2014 at 2:09 pm

      How is United’s wage bill looking this year? How much do Di Maria, Falcao and Rooney make a week combined? Man U fans look real classy flying a banner over another teams match. Fact is your soul left with Sir Alex mate

      • MntD

        October 1, 2014 at 3:40 pm

        …and you’re telling me about United why exactly?

        Oh! You made an incorrect assumption.

        • john thomas

          October 1, 2014 at 4:24 pm

          Didn’t sound like you were from Manchester and a troll of a comment, so I made an assumption. But your right City is a soulless club with a soulless captain right?

        • john thomas

          October 1, 2014 at 4:35 pm

          And my sincerest apologies for offending you, if I was accused of being a United fan I’d take it personal as well ha

          • MntD

            October 2, 2014 at 2:27 pm

            Yes, soulless.
            It’s funny when someone should just stop typing after being completely wrong and they just go on and on and on.

      • Zonal Marking

        October 1, 2014 at 8:42 pm

        A handful of fans flying a banner have nothing to do with all United fans.
        Roma Ultras stab fans of opposing teams on occasion should we call all Roma fans Psychos because of the actions of a few?
        I guess not because making sweeping generalizations of an entire group because of the actions of a handful of individuals makes more sense.
        United’s wage bill hasn’t stopped them from giving youth a chance. Paddy, Blackett, and Lingard have all made their debuts this season in the premier league.
        United’s wages to Revenue is fairly even. The club announced record Revenues again this year leaving behind every other Prem Club comfortably.

        • MntD

          October 2, 2014 at 2:29 pm

          What’s this? Someone talking sense?

          If were talking about generalizing Serie A fans then were talking about the poster Celtic FC.

  2. christian

    October 1, 2014 at 12:58 pm

    Fair points Peter.

    Europe is a puzzle that City haven’t figured out at all but it’s a growing project that I believe will come to fruition just not this year. Pell’s got the tactic wrong and was pounded by the commentators for it. Last year’s math error makes me even more concerned for City’s understanding of what’s going on times in Europe.

    Last season was maybe their best shot at going forward but they let Barca push them around and played small under the big lights.

    Also, let’s give credit to AS Roma who played outstanding.

    • Peter Quinn

      October 1, 2014 at 1:10 pm

      I’m with you, Christian. I’m not the type of fan to bash City just because I’m a United fan. I like a lot of City’s players (Toure and Zabaleta are tops for me), Pellegrini, Brian Kidd, how the club are putting money into the Manchester area and building their youth system.

      And truth is, I want all the Premier League clubs to do well in the Champions League because it makes the league look better.

      I just don’t get why City can’t turn the corner. They’ve shown that they can react when they’re backed into a corner and HAVE to get results. Why can’t they just come out and get it done from the word “go”?

      And I also agree with you on Roma. I wrote the article yesterday talking about the matchup between the teams. People thinking Roma were automatically finishing third in the group need to pay more attention to football outside of England. Roma have some really good players at key positions, are well-coached and are motivated.

  3. elliott

    October 1, 2014 at 12:21 pm

    I tend to agree with those who think the 4-4-2 is just too open for European games. They are much more like World Cup matches – very closed and tight, with few chances. I think a 4-3-3 would be more boring/dry/whatever, but get better results.

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