You might remember, a few weeks ago after Manchester City had cocked up against CSKA Moscow, I wrote for Typical City about how I was beginning to get fed up with the excuses coming from the club when they had failed once again in the Champions League. To re-cap briefly, it was about being frustrated with the “we must do better” or “we need to learn this lesson” comments after matches where the Blues had lost or drawn, when they could – and should – have won, especially in the top European competition.
Now, one win against one of the best sides in the world doesn’t change that there are concerns, but it does change a bit of the feeling. Ahead of Tuesday’s win over Bayern Munich, the mood surrounding Europe was fairly apathetic and downbeat; even if the Blues were to win, they were still up against it in trying to qualify from the group. However, I suppose, the manner of the win is what affects that – because there’s been an almost 180-degree turnaround and I feel it too.
See, City’s performance on Tuesday evening wasn’t great. They may have won the game, but there was something a bit fortuitous about it; you always got the impression Bayern could have stepped it up had they not been leading with a few minutes to play. They were wasting time, sure (who wouldn’t, really?), but they were still matching the Blues while down to ten men.
In a whirlwind of contradiction, though, you always felt that City were fairly comfortable. While Bayern could have done more damage, they didn’t carve out any clear-cut chances after taking the lead and were content to sit on that lead. I suppose being group winners and being a man down was part of that line of thinking.
This gives something of a double impression. While feeling that City didn’t play particularly well, you also feel like their performance was pretty good – they saw a lot of the ball in dangerous areas and were getting a few (albeit, long range) shots in. From the hour mark, it always looked like it’d be City that would get it if there were to be another goal. And it was.
And while the win gives the Blues the chance to qualify from the group in the final game, the concerns about the Champions League remain. Despite being a man light, Bayern were able to seize control of the game. City, after dispatching the penalty, were in total control; Bayern were taking chances in defence trying to pass it forward and the home side were causing problems with their pressing.
A soft equaliser changed that (again borne out by avoidable errors – Eliaquim Mangala’s challenge, Joe Hart’s positioning and the position of the man wall). On top of that came a second for the visitors, who surely mustn’t have been able to believe their luck when the goalkeeper was caught in no-man’s land and Bacaray Sagna provided an aerial challenge akin to nothing more than a stiff breeze.
Whoever City are playing – be it the group’s worst team or the group’s best team – these sorts of goals can’t be conceded and defending in this competition has been lax for a while.
Now, all of that said, the win over Bayern Munich has reinvigorated the passion for City in Europe. It’s probably because of the nature of it. On 85 minutes, the Blues were as good as out – save for results going their way and a 3-0 or higher win in Rome. But seven minutes later, City could qualify with a 2-2 draw in their final match.
As the 1998-99 season review VHS said of Paul Dickov’s goal in the Playoff Final: “From despair to delight, the City fans celebrate!” And that, to an extent, was true of Tuesday evening. Had the Blues cocked up against Bayern, there will have been thousands of City fans who threw in the towel with Europe – sick of the same old story, with only the names of the opposition changing.
Yet, by playing that Get Out Of Jail Free card, those fans have come away from the game feeling good. Hell, I’m one of the most pessimistic supporters there is and even I feel like City could actually get the result they need in Rome (though I’ve not decided if they’ll end up going out anyway because of CSKA Moscow’s result in a bout of Typical City).
People talk of the win over Bayern potentially being a turning point, but it could be so much more than that. True, it might get this season off and running properly after weeks of below par displays and results. This could have been the match that City needed to perk up interest in Europe’s top club competition.
Maybe, instead of going home feeling disillusioned with the Champions League, just maybe the supporters left the Etihad feeling a new lease of life for it. There was no awful refereeing decision that hid the team’s inadequacies. They were there for all to see and City went on to beat Bayern Munich with every single one of those European problems on display. They beat the German side with their flies open and c*ck hanging out is what they did.
Perhaps it’s an unerringly positive way to look at things, but Manuel Pellegrini and his side have the chance to qualify from a group they should be dead and buried in given how well they’ve played in it so far. They might still go out, even if they get a win in Rome, but should that happen it’d be very hard to deny that there is an upbeat feeling despite the elimination.
There are still worries that the lessons haven’t been learnt, even in victory, but at least the problems weren’t so severe that they were fatal. Perhaps this is the game where City got their confidence back for the domestic fight, built on a solid – if, at times, nervy – display against Swansea; and perhaps this was the game where the Champions League comes alive for the fans once again.
City’s win over Bayern Munich is the Viagra medication to the limpness of the supporters’ enthusiasm for the Champions League.
I don’t know about you, but I suddenly feel reborn.
Written by David Mooney