“Mistakes at this level, no matter how seemingly small, can often hit you where it hurts”
Following their unconvincing 2-2 draw with CSKA Moscow on Tuesday, Manchester City yet again see their Champions League hopes hanging by a thread early on in the competition for the fourth season in the row.
Goals from Aguero and Milner put City 2-0 up after 37 minutes, in a match they were firmly controlling, before CSKA mounted a second-half comeback which was completed by a hotly disputed penalty with four minutes to go. A gutting defeat to Bayern Munich in their opening game and a 1-1 draw at home to Roma had already left them in a difficult position, but regardless of the controversy surrounding CSKA’s equalizer, City have seemingly shot themselves in the foot in the Champions League yet again and it is becoming a familiar sight.
Despite the millions in the bank and a brilliant squad of title-winning players at their disposable, the last four seasons have produced a mixture of disappointing results and performances in the elite European competition. Their recording is surprising, taking into consideration Chelsea’s excellent progress in the Champions League under Roman Abramovich’s ownership. Since he brought Chelsea back in 2004, their record reads as follows: semi-finals, semi-finals, second round, semi-finals, final, second round, quarter-finals, winners, group stage, semi-finals.
Since Manchester City were taken over by Sheihk Mansour, they have struggled to get out of the group stages – making it only once – and there is now a big chance that they will fall at the first hurdle once again.
In 2011-12, their first venture in the competition since 1968-69 (when it was just known as the ‘European cup’), they could only manage a third place finish in their group with Bayern Munich, Napoli and Villareal, which was hardly considered a disgrace. A draw and a defeat to Napoli proved crucial, which came in the aftermath of a 2-0 away defeat to Bayern Munich – that match being remembered as the ‘Carlos Tevez night’ for all the wrong reasons.
The following year City returned to the Champions league as Champions of England, but did not show any signs of improvement in the competition – in fact, they were worse. Two goals in the last three minutes away to Real Madrid condemned them to a heartbreaking defeat, while in the next game they needed a last minute Ballotelli penalty to secure a 1-1 draw with Borussia Dortmund.
The real damage came in the next two games against an unconvincing Ajax side, suffering a poor 3-1 away defeat, while at home they came back from 2-0 down early on to draw 2-2 – a good comeback, but not the result they needed at all. A 1-1 draw at home to Real Madrid in the next game sealed their fate and a defeat to Dortmund in their final game meant they finished bottom, having failed win a single game. Roberto Mancini paid the price and was sacked at the end of the season, the reasons being an apparent combination of his poor man management skills and City’s failings in Europe.
The following season saw ‘The Engineer’ Manuel Pellegrini take the helm, and this time City faired somewhat better, winning five of their six group games, the only defeat coming in a 3-1 home loss to Bayern Munich (City have drawn them three times in the group stage in four years) during Joe Hart’s difficult spell.
Although, their final game proved costly in the long run, as City travelled to Bayern Munich with qualification already secured. A win by two goals would have seen them top the group, which, when they went 2-0 down, looked unthinkable. But City came back and led 3-2 with half an hour remaining. Another goal would have seen them top the group.
Shockingly, Pellergini appeared in front of TV cameras following the game and seemed unaware that a fourth goal would have seen his side claim the top spot.
When asked if he was tempted to bring on another striker he said, “I was tempted if we scored the fourth goal. Of course, that’s why I sent Aguero to warm up.”
Many people were surprised by this, as it showed City and their manager in a somewhat naïve light – mistakes at this level, no matter how seemingly small, can often hit you where it hurts. As a result, City finished second in the group and were drawn against barcelona in the knock-out stages. City were duly dispatched for another season.
The only thing that may save City’s Champions League hopes is that Roma were completely crushed at home to Bayern Munich in a game that ended 7-1. City travel to Rome in their final game, which looks like a make or break European night for Manchester City.