“A full blown crisis?”
By Kevin Henning, Thu 22 November 2012 17:08
And now it's a full blown crisis. Manchester City, Champions of England, top of the Premier League, the only unbeaten professional side in the country, the best defensive record in the league have been knocked out of arguably the trickiest ever Champions League 'Group of Death'.
In this morning's papers, on the radio and on Sky Sports News, journalists who really should know better are pondering and probing as to whether the other Roberto will follow Di Matteo in the managerial sack race. Even Jose Mourinho, the man who had the audacity to refer to Arsene Wenger as a voyeur yet simply cannot resist poking his unwanted nose into other clubs' business, has hinted that he believes Mancini should be given the bullet. Fortunately for everyone associated with Manchester City Football Club, the man who came from Italy is fully aware that in the eyes of the supporters, he is still the man to drive this club forwards after a huge show of support whilst Mourinho stalked up and down the touchline wondering why he isn't shown the same level of love in Madrid.
In all honesty, it is a disappointment that City haven't progressed beyond the group stage for a second consecutive year. That the club will probably finish without a win from this campaign and therefore will have the lowest points haul from any English side in Champions League history will hurt but let's look at the positives and the ways in which City can improve the next time the Champions League rolls around and try to make it third time lucky.
In the two seasons so far, City will have played a dozen matches after the meaningless trip to Dortmund next month. In that time, City have only played Spanish, Italian, German and Dutch opposition. We've never been drawn against an FC Cluj, a BATE Borisov nor a Dynamo Zagreb. Should we complete Group D without a win, we'll still have won a quarter of the twelve matches we have played so far. We're still unbeaten on home soil.The mistakes that have resulted in dropped points at the Bernabeu, the Amsterdam Arena as well as the Etihad Stadium surely can't be repeated too many more times. The match officials that have robbed us of crucial desicions against Bayern Munich last season and Ajax this may finally accept that we are amongst the European elite, aren't going away and begin to treat us as such.
What we need to learn is not to give home sides an early lead in front of partisan crowds. This gives both the home team and the fanatics in attendance an enormous lift and we have often failed to recover once a goal down. City also need to consider the surge in confidence they would recieve from going in front during home matches. Napoli, Villareal, Borussia Dortmund, Ajax and Real Madrid have all benefitted from City's sluggish starts in Manchester but in each of these games, Mancini's men have recovered to gain at least a point. Five out of six games at home in other words where the visitors have drawn first blood. These are statistics that need to be changed if we are to enjoy the competition that would rather see two thousand loyal supporters locked out of a stadium each matchday, than trim a few inches from the advetising boards.
The final lesson that City need to take on board is a controversial one. Time and time again last night we saw Madrid players cut the flow of the game up by falling down, thus stopping the quest for a winner in full flow only to spring back to their feet untroubled and carry on with the game. Do City need to go in front and then play clever? Maybe. As the game approached injury time last night, one wisened chap sat a few seats away in the South Stand beautifully noted Pepe rolling around on the floor and announced to anyone who cared to listen - "That's the one thing we need to learn from this year's Champions League. Some call it gamesmanship, some call it professionalism, some call it a lack of sportsmanship - I refer to it as fucking cheating but there's no doubt we have to become good at it."
Of course City need to learn and move on and a third season of early exits would be a tremendous blow, but if the sky blues can kick on and successfully defend their Premier League crown then all will be well again in Mancini's garden.