Damn. Beaten at the death (again) in Europe by a deflection. Football can be a cruel game.
Once more, European fever had not gripped my particular household. It has been drummed into all of us for years that this is the premier club competition, something every footballer and club aspires to, and the most exciting of prospects. Well considering we were playing away to a giant of the world game, I didn’t give too much thought to the game until the teams were announced. Domestic football still rules for me, as I’ve said many a time.
And so to the team. Thanks to the ridiculous trimming of Manchester City’s squad and enforced absences, there wasn’t a huge amount of leeway for Pellegrini, stranded in the stands. The initial surprise of picking Dzeko over Aguero soon made sense, as City needed a physical man up front to hold the ball, an outlet. The defence was as expected, and once more Navas was picked, perhaps slightly surprisingly over Milner. There’s probably a thought too that three games in eight days is too much for Aguero.
City started on the back-foot and should have been behind in the first minute. An accidental slight contact on Muller was enough for him to screw the ball wide, but it was a worrying start. City recovered but for much of the match Bayern had a moderate but not overwhelming superiority. City had their periods, and whilst the second half was generally considered the half in which we played best, I thought we had numerous promising situations on the counter-attack in the first half, but never made the right pass. To state the obvious, we were playing a world-class team and they were always going to have some chances. Few other teams can stop Muller getting chances few stop him scoring. We did well all things considered in my opinion, but we still need to take one step up to compete in the latter stages. We’re still not there yet. It’s coming though, as I briefly mention later.
Hart was of course excellent, apart from one spilled shot. He will continue to divide opinion because he will continue to make the odd mistake, flap at the odd cross or get beaten at the near post. But as he said after the match, he tends to be busy against German teams. He’s done plenty right this season, but he needs consistency.
Other notable performers were City’s central defenders, who cleared time and time again. Fernandinho got his mojo back and did a sterling job for two people. It’s of little doubt though that we missed Fernando, who is a recognised defensive midfielder. The extra protection he would have afforded the defence was apparent for periods during the match. Sagna too was fine, though still attracted criticism from some fans bizarrely. Silva was magical and could have scored with a diving header, but once more Samir Nasri had a forgettable game that was not terrible but had no highlights.
I’ve read that it was the right result as Bayern Munich deserved to win. But as they hadn’t ball in the net until a late deflected effort and we should have had a penalty, then that simply isn’t the case. Having more attacks and chances does not automatically merit victory, as City have found out to their cost in the past.
Making the opposition keeper work hard doesn’t merit victory either – that’s his job. It’s no different to a succession of great tackles in defence or a brilliant goal by a forward. United used to have quite a decent keeper who bailed out his team game after game, and I doubt many people called them lucky then. God knows how many times either that United went away in Europe and stifled games against moderate opposition and came away with a result.
And what’s more, the shot from Boateng was heading wide until it hit Goetze on the back. Jamie Redknapp blamed Kolarov for not tracking his man, but is it that surprising that he doesn’t wander over to a right-back position? It depends if you think this is a separate transition from the corner that preceded the goal.
As for the penalty, there’s no denying it was one – City don’t get the breaks in the Allianz Arena. If that had been given (and then scored), the whole outlook on the game would have changed and City would have been praised to the rafters. Fine lines.
Much of the above leads onto the theory that City should be more positive in such games, a theory born from the Barcelona home game last season. There’s no right answer of course, but applying caution away to a European giant that has previously ripped you to shreds is understandable. City would have been slaughtered if they had been thrashed after playing an attacking line-up. Such an approach can only work with utter discipline, and we didn’t have the personnel for that last night.
And linked to this: one of the most ridiculous things I have read is that Bayern Munich were “there for the taking”. Both teams were missing important players. One team was missing its manager too, though this wasn’t a major factor in the result. There was no distinct advantage for Manchester City, as neither team has started the season on fire after the World Cup. Bayern Munich are a huge force at home, there are few teams in the world that would win there (except City of course). A chunk of the team have just won the World Cup and they have one of the best forwards in world football and a brilliant new acquisition in central defence. They were not there for the taking. We were playing Bayern Munich away for god’s sake. But for a deflection, we would have got a point and become just the third team in 35 matches to prevent Bayern scoring at home. Hey, maybe I am setting my sights too low. Maybe this inferiority complex needs to be dropped and a different approach given to such games. But for me, that wasn’t a bad performance last night.
However, for all the luck of the winner, it can’t happen if the ball is in the opposition half. By defending and dropping back in matches like this, Manchester City are inviting such an occurrence. Plenty of goals are deflected or plain lucky – the way to avoid them is to be in possession of the ball and attack rather than defend. There is a huge psychological barrier faced by teams considered the underdog in situations like this that makes them panic and retreat to try and hold onto a draw. United utilised this for a decade and got many a late winner.
As for Ballack in the studio, there was a complete inability to analyse subjectively any of the action, such was his reluctance to criticise anything Bayern. A waste of time having him there then and yet again no City presence.
And so onto Yaya. An away game in Munich demands a talking point and so we got one courtesy of our bone-idle Ivorian (according to my twitter feed that is).
Firstly, the laughter. Ah yes, you can’t beat a bit of mock outrage, and the ridiculous overreaction to a player laughing after a defeat (in which he did not excel, importantly) is a case in point. No, for some people, the only acceptable reaction to a defeat is a slump to the ground, a flood of tears, an inconsolable blubbering mess laid out on the pitch and reluctantly dragged to his feet by an opposition player. A single tear must make its way down the player’s cheek as he throws his shirt into the crowd and applauds their endeavour (staying awake after 24 pints). Above all, look sad at all times. This extends to the journey back to England. There is nothing to smile about. You lot would probably ban laughter at a funeral if you had your way.
Okay, that was partially tongue-in-cheek. But for me, it was an overreaction. Toure was connecting with his old manager, and smiled and joked for a couple of seconds. Big deal. He was solemn, as the rules dictate, before and after. This was one early-season match in a season of 50+ games. I’ll cut him some slack on this occasion. Some City fans though wanted Yaya Toure sacked last night. Yes, that’s right, they wanted a £30m asset to have his contract nulled because he didn’t play to a desired level and for smiling afterwards. Sometimes I regret turning on my computer.
Now don’t get me wrong, Toure was poor against Bayern and has done little of merit this season in any game. He needs to improve, and quickly. There’s talk of a new deal, which should be earned. Right now, that deal should not be offered, as there’s too much hanging in the air after the summer and Toure has not entered the new season with it all behind him.
Some though seem to directly link this performance to the summer saga, but this performance could have happened in any season, and what’s more, it has happened every season. He often gets lost in games like this, against an energetic, pressing, skilful midfield, and this may have been as much the reason for his performance as other factors. He is not a defensive player (anymore). He in the team for his attacking abilities, for his drive from midfield that can devastate opposition teams. That’s not to excuse him totally. He has a languid style at the best of times but any team member has a duty to track and tackle and chase and Toure did little of that against Bayern Munich. It was a poor performance and our management team shoulder some blame too for not taking him off when Milner came on.
Toure has won us cups and leagues – he has been so important we may have won nothing without his contributions. For a few that means he now gets the benefit of the doubt. That was then, this is now. You don’t get credits for past performances, or a bye for a season. Some of the barrage of criticism he received after the match was not just due to a poor performance and him laughing afterwards though, it was linked to the summer and the denigration of his legacy. Suggesting Yaya might be a bit of an arsehole meant a few of us being labelled pillocks by one angry correspondent. But Yaya Toure doesn’t seem too bothered about his legacy with the club. He is in it for himself, and I have no problem with this. He wants to be remembered as a great, he is annoyed at the lack of recognition he gets and that extends to his national team and his continent’s perception to outsiders. He is not a diplomat though. He is not a Vincent Kompany, who is an ambassador for the club, for whom every action is considered and rational. He lives in a different world to us and will not be aware of how his actions are perceived. And for his actions in the summer he came across, irrelevant of how magnificent a player he is, as a bit of an ar*e. Sorry. So was Carlos Tevez, but he did it on the pitch (when in the country), and that’s all that mattered to me and it’s all that matters to me about Toure. The issue with me, the only issue with me, is his level of performance on the pitch, and it needs to improve. End of.
Personally, I see progress in this team. Not all City fans thought so last night, but I did. There is a train of thought that with City’s money we should be competing for this trophy right now. There is another train of thought that you have to grow into this tournament, that experience is key, and I think City are slowly doing that. Of course, a wretched performance at home to Roma will soon put that theory to bed, so only time will tell.
So the hardest game out of the way, but Roma’s emphatic win puts the pressure on City from the off, and a point in Munich would have given us a huge boost in the race for qualification. Three games without victory and Chelsea on the horizon, the vultures will be circling if City lose at the weekend. Of course no other team will have played three of the top five and Bayern Munich away in the first month of a season. The time to truly assess will come towards the end of the year.