Belfast Telegraph

Monday 28 July 2014

Manchester City find their feet far too late

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 07: Sergio Aguero of Manchester City looks dejected at the end of the UEFA Champions League Group A match between Manchester City and FC Bayern Muenchen at the Etihad Stadium on December 7, 2011 in Manchester, England. (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 07: Sergio Aguero of Manchester City looks dejected at the end of the UEFA Champions League Group A match between Manchester City and FC Bayern Muenchen at the Etihad Stadium on December 7, 2011 in Manchester, England. (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 07: Samir Nasri (L) Sergio Aguero and David Silva (R) of Manchester City look on during the UEFA Champions League Group A match between Manchester City and FC Bayern Muenchen at the Etihad Stadium on December 7, 2011 in Manchester, England. (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)

The English newspapers in the Mancini household are read only by the Manchester City manager's wife, Federica, so he has at least been spared the regular midweek dissections of his side's journey into the Champions League.

That is quite a mercy, because the events which unfolded before his own eyes have been challenging enough.



It has been a group of death in so many ways; the round robin in which Carlos Tevez looked him in the eye amid a dreadful beating in Munich and said he would not cooperate with his instructions. The group in which various combinations of his full-backs were torn asunder by dazzling talents such as Bayern Munich's Franck Ribéry and Napoli's Ezequiel Lavezzi. There was the torture of near defeat at home to Villarreal – a side "beyond bad", as one German observer has since described the Spaniards. The delight in City's troubles taken by Bayern's Karl-Heinz Rummenigge – not the only German who will be seeking to dictate fiscal policy to Britain this week – has somehow capped it all.



For about 20 minutes last night, it seemed that City had put all of this behind them. Mancini has been fond of saying what a "strange" tournament this is and there was no word better to describe Jupp Heynckes' decision to drop seven of the players whose 2-0 victory over City in the Allianz Arena did not begin to reveal the gulf in class.



City thanked him for that charity. Mancini's players began the game in deep water – fitting that they should have met the Italian world champion water polo team, who were in town on Tuesday – and certainly took a little time to reach dry land. But when they climbed to their feet it was a different side to the one Europe has seen.



Gone was the look of a club who seemed privileged to be in the Champions League. The German players' bus drew up last night before a vast sign bidding them Willkommen and the fans tucked into foot-long bockwurst. But it was Manchester turf and City showed that. With his left foot, David Silva picked apart Rummenigge's ruminations about City knowing the price of everything and the value of nothing. The deft touches of Edin Dzeko, integral to both goals, were recompense for his desperately poor evenings in Munich and Napoli.



It seemed that even stranger events might be about to unfold in eastern Spain. The Villarreal goalkeeper Diego Lopez, eccentric as he looked, wore a sky-blue shirt and the Spanish "Yellow Submarine" hit a post.



But there was no denying the rightful course of Group A. Mancini may claim, in the aftermath of becoming the first English side new to the Champions League to be eliminated at the group stage since Kenny Dalglish's Newcastle United in 1997, that fate dealt him a bad hand. Indeed, City are the first team to secure 10 points in a group campaign and still be eliminated since Werder Bremen, in the group from which Barcelona and Chelsea progressed five years ago. But the bare truth is that they were not good enough.



They will be back stronger from the experience in September. Expect that City side to boast a new central midfielder with the ability to open up defences – something they have lacked on the continent this autumn – and possibly with Robin van Persie in the ranks. Expect the defence to look very different too. That is for the future, though. The unedifying fact for now, which Mancini won't want to read in any language, is that £800m investment of Abu Dhabi investment has not been enough.

Last 16 qualifiers

Group winners Bayern Munich, Internazionale, Benfica, Real Madrid, Chelsea, Arsenal, APOEL Nicosia, Barcelona.



Runners-up Napoli, CSKA Moscow, Basle, Lyons, Bayer Leverkusen, Marseilles, Zenit St Petersburg, Milan.



Draw takes place on 16 December

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