The strangest of games at the strangest of times, it ended up being another frustrating afternoon/evening as City stumbled in the world’s most important club competition ™ once more.
A quick visit to the toilet at work from which I never returned saw me positioned nicely in the pub for kick-off. The line-up was strong enough, with Pellegrini sticking to his guns with two upfront.
It’s hard to gauge how a player fires himself up for a game in an empty stadium, though as I’ll discuss later, the players didn’t have to in the end. A bumpy pitch, sub-zero temperatures that brought the gloves out (not for Milner, obviously) and a muted atmosphere (don’t say it) made for a unique experience.
CSKA had lost their six previous Champions League games, though behind closed doors Bayern also struggled at the venue, but they did win in the end, and the result is king.
CSKA looked lively early on, finding space that this formation allows the opposition, but with time City took control and everything seemed to be going swimmingly. The second goal should have been disallowed for a Zabaleta offside in the build-up, but for once City got a break. After that of course the clear penalty was not given, the player not sent off, and the rest is history. Before the break, City players repeatedly got into good positions and should have put the game to bed, but consistently made wrong choices or miscontrolled the ball. Dzeko had one of those games where the ball often bounced off him, and he wasn’t alone.
And so to the second half, when it all went to pot. Few chances for either side if truth be told, but the team eased off, ambled around the pitch and paid the price.
A lot of criticism has been directed Pellegrini’s way for the 2nd half showing. Personally I think the players should take the brunt of the criticism for not coming out with the right attitude and commitment to finish the job. They shouldn’t need a Braveheart type speech at half-time to keep them going and short of Pellegrini spiking their half-time cuppa I don’t see how he has caused the rot to sink in. However, he can be criticised for not reacting once City eased off and lost control of the match. Eventually he did react, though his substitutions didn’t really work, and perhaps it was too late. City needed to gain hold of the midfield and with a lead restrict the opposition – perhaps blame for Pellegrini also lies in sending out a team that didn’t have clear instructions on how to protect its lead. Go for more goals or sit back and kill the game? City did neither.
Whatever, the manager and players must take collective responsibility for our continued failure to prosper in the competition. As I have alluded previously in blogs, it is a concern to me that such continued failure results in managerial changes. I want to see a manager build a dynasty at the Etihad, and I’d like him to be a Chilean with bloodshot eyes. Many of us might not care too much about the Champions League, but our owners do.
The penalty needs little discussion, one of the worst decisions I have seen, since Micah Richard’s penalty concession in the League Cup semi-final at Anfield. But having mentioned that we got a break for the second goal, perhaps we cannot complain too much. What’s more, without the ridiculous fannying about by Yaya Toure in the lead-up, we wouldn’t have a controversy to discuss.
Oh, and if you think UEFA/Michel Platini is telling referees to give decisions against City, I suggest you seek professional help.
As ever, fine lines. If that penalty had not been given and the game had fizzled out, we’d be celebrating a win, irrelevant of the level of performance. If we had got that penalty at Bayern (and scored it), then we’d be sitting pretty in the league. City deserve plenty of criticism in recent years in the competition, for too often they have failed to perform, but for all that, apart from the second goal last night, we really haven’t had many breaks either, from the moment the staged draw commenced. But, as already mentioned, we could just play better and then it wouldn’t be an issue.
The big question for me regarding Champions League games is where does the intensity of many a league game go? It was gone from Aguero, predictably absent from Yaya, and even the likes of Milner and Silva.
And so to CSKA’s punishment. For racial abuse, their punishment is to get 500 fans into the ground using UEFA partner tickets, whilst for City fans permission is not even granted to go near the stadium. Well done UEFA once more for dealing decisively with the big issues. An utter joke and whilst it had no bearing on the result, I understand why City have complained and why Vincent Kompany was so incensed after the match. He of course needs to take responsibility for the performance itself, which he mentioned more than once in his interview, though other City fans think he should stick to talking about football as captain rather than being a figurehead for the club. He’s not your average captain though.
When it boils down to it, the feeling persists that even if City had comfortably won last night, the team isn’t set up yet to challenge for the Champions League trophy, and last night makes little difference in the scheme of things. It will come, one day, but it could be some way off. City could have blazed a trail through the competition in recent years, reaching the semi-final each year and the end result would still be the same, our wallets perhaps a little lighter. Perhaps that’s part of the reason the league and domestic cups still mean more to me – they actually seem highly winnable, as the team have demonstrated in recent years.
So City will comfortably win the return the return leg, in front of what will hopefully be a large crowd. Bayern’s thrashing of Roma has done us a favour. The table goes off head-to-head then goal difference, so after the next round of games we may sit in a qualification position, but that hardly tells the story with two tough games left. It’s hard to predict what will happen, but I get the feeling City will travel to Rome needing to win to qualify – that’s entirely “doable”, bit it will require a distinct change of mentality.
Then we’ll draw Real Madrid in the knockout stage.