As sure as night becomes day, a Manchester City Champions League night becomes a depressingly familiar tale of underwhelming performances and stubborn management, leading to disappointing results.
City lost at home to CSKA Moscow on Wednesday night to leave themselves bottom of the group with four games played. Though City somewhat inexplicably remain just two points from a qualification position in the group, you would have to have been taking something of lethal strength to believe that progression to the last 16 is a realistic possibility.
My instinct here is to find all the synonyms I can for ‘pathetic’ and maybe just bash some random swear words into my keyboard, but as the capital letters in the title of this piece indicate, I have committed to writing an analysis of this game. I suppose I must attempt to analyse.
Manuel Pellegrini – again
Once again it’s impossible to talk of a City European game without questioning the manager. Why does Pellegrini stick so resolutely to 4-4-2 despite the most concrete evidence possible that it just does not work? It’s all well and good having a clear philosophy about how the game should be played and, make no mistake about it, Pellegrini’s is one I admire. His commitment to attractive football and entertainment is great and impossible to criticise when it’s working.
However, stubbornness is not a good trait when your ideas are failing you. Time and time again we see teams that are less gifted than City come and have a field day against the midfield. Roma cut City open countless times and Moscow made light work of it too. Toure and Fernandinho (and to a lesser extent, Fernando) have come in for plenty of criticism this season and a great deal of it is justified. They are not helped at all though by a system that makes them easy to overwhelm and, once bypassed, leaves the defence completely exposed. A half-time substitution that saw Fernandinho replace Jovetic showed that the manager may spotted the problem, but Fernandinho saw red and Džeko was partnering Agüero before too long. For all the quality of his Plan A, it is becoming an unshakeable tag for Pellegrini that he has no Plan B.
I’m happy to add my name to the list of Typical City writers now on record as saying that I will not jump onto an anti-Pellegrini bandwagon (I like him a lot), but he is displaying some serious flaws that need to be addressed. If he refuses to budge from his ideals whilst obtaining poor results then he will find no hiding place from the mounting criticism heading his way.
The players – again
I’m tempted to just name every player and tell you they were poor. Small exceptions can be made for Agüero, Hart and Milner who should not shoulder as much blame as their colleagues.
After excellent performances on Sunday against United, Clichy and Toure reverted to their early season standards. Clichy was culpable for both goals – he handballed to give the free kick for the first and then just gave the ball away for the second. Toure was poor throughout and earned himself a stupid red card when frustration got the better of him.
For as woeful as the referee was (and truly, his performance was inept as it gets), it shouldn’t mask that in key moments big players lost their cool. Though quite how he managed to book Agüero for a dive instead of giving a penalty at the death is a real mystery.
Stevan Jovetic was another player who stood out for just how poor he was. As ever, he was eager to receive the ball. When he had it, he ran himself into trouble and his distribution was terrible. Current performances will not be doing his confidence any good at all, and it’s a shame after a magnificent start to the season.
For all of the terrible performances we’ve seen from City in the Champions League, this is surely a low point. It’s hard to see how it could get worse – don’t forget CSKA Moscow were supposed to the whipping boys of the group – but if we see a performance like this against Bayern Munich next time out then it’s going to be a painful 90 minutes.
A goal conceded inside two minutes, two red cards and a deserved loss against a team that were brushed aside with a 5-2 victory exactly one year ago is a very obvious indicator that City have gone backwards. It’s infuriating to watch and quite frankly, not a whole lot of fun to write about.
Written by Richard Burns