Belfast Telegraph

Home Sport Football European

Hapless Man City's European dreams are left in tatters

By Ronnie Esplin

The way it finished - Fernandinho and Yaya Toure being dismissed within 13 minutes of each other as the Manchester mist thickened - encapsulated everything about this Manchester City team in this competition. Their defeat on a night when they produced comical defending and looked less likely to trouble CSKA Moscow as the game went on, left them with a home Champions League record of two wins out of nine.

There will be talk of the referee's robbery; an injustice compounded by Sergio Aguero being denied a penalty at the death.

But there was no penalty. Aguero was not infringed. City were not cheated. They have lacked the structure, imagination and dependability to cope with the 90-minute examination which Champions League football brings.

They are bottom of Group E but their campaign is not mathematically extinguished. City need to beat Bayern Munich and then take their hopes into the last game in Rome. If they draw against Bayern and there is a winner between Moscow and Roma, they will be out.

The pockets of Russians who had breached Uefa's discredited "behind closed doors" punishment did not catch the eye of the stewards when they revealed themselves, roaring with delight at the sight of their team carving up the City defence after two minutes.

There was a little misfortune about the circumstances. Gaël Clichy was two yards from Ahmed Musa when the Nigerian hit the ball at him on the right-hand fringe of the City area to win a free-kick.

But there could be no argument about the desperate quality of the defending when Bebras Natcho swung the free-kick in.

Seydou Doumbia was left free and easy to head it home the free kick, with Toure the errant marker.

The boos which rang out were at the sight of the Russians but some must have felt the same sentiment for Manuel Pellegrini's team.

The goal seemed to instil a little life and steel into City There was a certain justice in the equaliser they found within six minutes when - after Jesus Navas had spurned a clear scoring chance that Sergio Aguero had teed up for him by firing high and wide - Toure scored.

Stevan Jovetic, lively early on for City though substituted at half-time as Pellegrini sought to bolster his midfield, was clipped on the edge of the visitors' penalty area by Vasili Berezutski.

Toure placed the ensuing free-kick in the top left-hand corner.

Toure's wonderful, lofted pass after 20 minutes was the precursor of a knockdown which Aguero latched on to and fired just wide.

But Roman Eremenko provided a hint of the danger which lurked, when he bent a pass inside Martin Demichelis with his right outstep, allowing Musa to race on to it and shoot wide when he ought to have scored.

Then the second goal came. Doumbia's goalscoring capability is no secret to City - five of his 10 Champions League goals have been against them- and after a crass surrender of possession by Clichy, the ball was fed into him and he buried it.

Pellegrini tried various permutations to make a difference in the second half. Fernandinho arrived after the break to pair with Fernando and allow Toure to push further up the field.

But within 10 minutes he was restored to the back of midfield as Fernando made way for Edin Dzeko as an extra striker.

It was a sign of the losing battle that City seemed to be engaged in, with the home side making no real impact despite being camped in the Russian half.

The walking calamity that they have become in Europe was written across the night when Fernandinho received two yellow cards in the space of eight minutes - the second for obstruction - and was promptly dismissed.

There were obstacles everywhere. Aguero sent Dzeko through but the Moscow keeper Igor Akinfeev was rapidly off his line to palm the ball away from him.

Then came the final indignity: Toure dismissed for a reckless challenge on Eremenko.

Samir Nasri could also have walked as he steamed into another reckless challenge. "It's not a death match," Pellegrini said before this game. It certainly felt like one.

Belfast Telegraph


From Belfast Telegraph