City’s Champion’s League run ended not with a bang, or with a whimper. It was a strange night. The game was an anticlimax after so many of us had got our hopes up, but we will be back stronger next year, and the year after that. Here are some thoughts on last night’s game…
Reality; the state of
It gives me no pleasure to say it, but last night was the starkest demonstration yet that City are not at the required level to win the Champion’s League, or really compete in the later stages at all. In previous years we have gone out at the group stages and been correctly derided as poor. This year was supposed to be different – new signings, a Champion’s League-savvy manager, Aguero on fire – but it ended up almost the same, just one round later.
The playing staff learned that games at this level rest on the tiniest margins. In both legs Barcelona took their chances and City did not. The Catalans are through to the Quarter Finals, City are not.
The management seem confused. As Rob Pollard pointed out yesterday, Pellegrini clearly has the raw materials to be an excellent Manchester City manager but makes baffling mistakes in the biggest games, often letting the scoreline get away from City before making the required changes. This is not the time to doubt the man, in his trophy winning first season, but it is essential that City get things right off the ball as well as on it.
The fans also learned a few lessons last night. We all, myself included, got a bit excited about the prospect of Aguero returning. We were taken in by the newspaper reports of Barcelona rattling around like spare change in the washing machine. The supposed clouds around Messi helped us believe he might have an off night.
We all learned lessons. We all have to move on. We will be back, the players and fans, next year just that little bit more prepared and that little bit more realistic. And as above, it’s those fine margins in the Champion’s League which matter.
…City weren’t playing too badly last night. We’ve seen better his season, but we’ve also seen a lot worse. We had our chances to put the ball past the excellent Victor Valdes. Vincent Kompany went above and beyond at the back. Silva was his usual busy self.
The problem, plainly and simply, is that Barcelona were better. As in the first leg, they played like they had a point to prove and punished City for every error. A 4-1 scoreline over the two legs does not seem fair, but, on reflection, it probably is. We were outplayed home and away by a combination of a too conservative outlook and Barcelona excellence. That comes with the qualification that the majority of the goals over the two legs came when City had ten men, but it doesn’t change the reality.
It is a bit passé to say it these days, but Messi really is an unreal footballer and Barcelona, on their day, are a fantastic team.
I don’t know about you, but I want a rematch next year.
Journey Before Destination
It is easy to forget at times that City are still new to this competition. That statement comes with the usual, valid, disclaimer that the players should be experienced enough to deal with it, but that does not tell the whole story. Despite the doom mongers and the grief athletes, City actually are making progress in Europe. Compare and contrast the first two dour efforts at the group stages to this season’s exciting, no holds barred 15 points.
For the first time, teams across Europe were hoping to avoid City in the knockout rounds. They were worried about how many ways our strikers would find to violate them. This is new. There is a long way to go, but the team is getting there. We might not ever win this trophy, but no one this year has said City don’t belong at this level. Slowly but surely. Gradual gains. Journey before destination.
We Can’t Get Bogged Down
Finally, I would like to mention the referee, and how tempting it is to breath in the injustice of not getting a penalty when Pique went through the back of Dzeko. This temptation must be avoided.
The referee was abysmal, yes, but to both teams.
Take the Barcelona diving and rolling around out of the equation and he was still abysmal. Lescott should have had a penalty awarded against him in the first half. Neymar was wrongly ruled offside after scoring. City rode their luck at times and didn’t get a drop of it at others. Cest la vie.
We have to pick ourselves up and win the weekends game at Hull. Talk about contrasting surroundings…
Written by Alex Timperley who is on Twitter