Ah, here we go again. Another scraped draw at home to a resurgent “lower pot” European side that helped explain the vitriol that followed from many afterwards – not because of the performance in itself, but because we’ve been here before and don’t seem to be learning.
The team-sheet is impossible to predict nowadays. Navas started wide and Demichelis returned ahead of Mangala. City went with two upfront and that’s when the anxiety kicked in.
City started well, with a clear penalty won by Aguero, as he was tugged as a cross came in. Should it have been a red for City reject Maicon? Well even with a replay on a loop I am not sure, so am not going to criticise the referee for this one. Aguero would probably have got to the ball, but I am not convinced that he would have got a clean shot away, which would thus make it a goal-scoring opportunity and a clear red. To be honest, that early in the game, the referee probably would rather look the other way, however strong the argument. I’m not sure he even gave the penalty anyway, so there was little chance of a red if he had to be alerted to a tug. It does beg the question why he gave a yellow then – a cop-out punishment in many respects.
Unfortunately, the early goal was not a spur to push on, as Roma increasingly threatened and Maicon almost made amends for the penalty by rattling a shot against the bar when he should have scored. City’s formation was all wrong and a pacey counter-attacking Roma side were passing the ball superbly, their movement creating gaps across the pitch. Some brilliant movement that dragged City players out of position saw a deserved equaliser for the visitors, though if Hart hadn’t slipped he may have got to the ball first. Either way, it was poor defending from City’s centre halves, especially Kompany in my opinion. A man almost as old as me (almost) had half the pitch to find space in.
As for the penalty appeal for handball, it was accidental for me, but with a hand in an unnatural position, it could easily have been given. Such a grey area, but it wasn’t given in the 1999 play-off final so we’ll have to let this go too.
Once more arguments rage about formations. I’m no expert to say the least on this topic so I enter the fray warily, and yet to me it seems quite clear that City surely suffered once more with two players upfront. Dzeko toiled and was unlucky to be withdrawn, but City appeared to be (partially) overrun in midfield once more at home in the Champions League. Formations can be fluid of course and Bayern Munich showed that a 4-4-2 can be highly effective when disposing of Barcelona a couple of years back, and the formation helps when a striker falls back into midfield to help cover, but for me City’s formation was all wrong last night. If Fernando was fit then no doubt he would have started and we may have seen a different formation but surely other players can cover that role and we can’t be relying on one summer acquisition to make our European tactics work.
But it is the stubbornness of Pellegrini to persist with 4-4-2 that grates. This is not the first time that Fernandinho and Yaya Toure have been outnumbered by three opposition midfielders and the team have suffered as a result. I’ll talk about Yaya later (yippee), but he wasn’t helped by the formation – no one was. In addition, with Silva on the left, a player who does not defend, it not only meant another player not in his best position (though he created more chances than any other player on either team on the night), but left the area behind him exposed.
Hindsight is a wonderful thing. Should Demichelis have started against Hull and Mangala’s pace be used against Roma, should Navas have come on a sub rather than starting and Milner started as an extra body in midfield rather than coming on as a substitute to shore up a porous midfield?
In the 2nd half there was much greater parity as City had more men in the midfield. Pellegrini tried to correct his mistakes and City had the numbers to press forward more whilst restricting Roma to the odd hairy moment but little else. City lacked ideas or imagination though, even when Roma ran out of steam and were clearly looking for a draw as the game entered its closing stages. Time and time again we tried to pass our way into the goal when perhaps a more direct approach, and some variety, a Plan B, was desperately needed.
So what of Pellegrini’s comments that the formation was not at fault? Anything a manager says should be taken with a pinch of salt of course, he is hardly going to admit that he got it all wrong, and he was right that the passing was very sloppy at times, but surely that was at least partly due to the formation? If he truly thinks the formation was fine, that’s worrying. City need a different approach to European games. One clean sheet in 16 Champions League games tells its own story.
City have had difficult groups and the one time we didn’t we qualified with ease, but it’s difficult for everyone else too and Roma don’t seem to have suffered too much and nor did Borussia Dortmund or Napoli. We have to get on with it and believe we belong otherwise we will never progress. Other teams have taken years to grow into this competition, especially English ones, but others seem to take to it easily enough (without winning the thing) and PSG seem to have settled in nicely with their expensive acquisitions. Could it really be the case that this team of repeated champions is not that good really when against the real cream of the crop? Just how good are they, or is it all tactics? I don’t have the answers. Roma are a great side who dropped points for the first time last night, but they are not European giants and had a goalkeeper, 2 centre backs, Strootman and De Rossi out – we should be looking to dominate games like this and be winning.
Still, a ridiculous level of pessimism after the game. The campaign is far from over, and there is plenty to play for. Maddening that I have to point this out really – we didn’t lose last night by the way.
And with the heaviest of hearts we turn to the same old topics of conversation. Let’s get Yaya Toure out of the way first. He wasn’t the worst player on the pitch, he was neither brilliant nor a liability. He was sloppy at times, but he was not the only one. The thing is, whilst some want him dropped because they think he is literally strolling around the pitch, he hasn’t been terrible in recent weeks, he just hasn’t reached the great heights of last season, and is nowhere near those heights. Other players get rotated, so I see little reason why he should get special treatment. Drop him for a game, not because he is terrible, but because he is no different to anyone else.
My heart gets even heavier – we move on to the atmosphere. It was poor, even with the help of an early goal to raise the spirits. There’s just no other way to say it really – a large swathe of Manchester City fans just don’t care about the Champions League right now, never have if truth be told. Apologies for not falling for all the hype, apologies for the guy on twitter that ranted at us for praying for moments like this for decades and then not embracing such magical nights, but I simply cannot help how I feel, and how others clearly feel. Roma at home should be a magical night, but for many there’s just a shrug of the shoulders. The atmosphere is linked to the next topic I will discuss, but that’s just part of the problem. English grounds are gentrified on the whole nowadays anyway (at least at the top level) and there’s little you can do to change that except by greatly reducing prices and introducing terracing. Don’t hold your breath. A group stage in the competition is also a big hindrance – if tonight had been the first leg of the knockout stage, the atmosphere would have been a tad livelier. As it is, there’s four more games to try and turn this round.
I’ve said it before, but my theory is thus: we’ve had success thrust upon us that we thought would never be experienced and the success has been domestic and this still captivates us. A ridiculous bent organisation overseeing the game, rules fixed to suit the status quo epitomised by biased draws and ridiculous financial restrictions have resulted in some fans just giving up with it all. Which leads us to….
It’s a vicious circle though. A full crowd makes for an atmosphere that fires up the players perhaps. A good team performance fires up the crowd. Empty seats and silence fires up the away side, who are hardly intimidated by the occasion.
Whilst our apathy to the competition is one thing, the more worrying aspect for me is the effect it has elsewhere. However much joy we get from domestic success, it has to be admitted, the natural growth of the club now should be to experience European success, and the owners will certainly see it this way. Failure in Europe puts Pellegrini’s job in jeopardy at some point. I really want to see a manager stay here for a long time, especially this charming man.
And now my heart is heavier than an elephant’s. Time to discuss attendances. Nowadays, the endless tools that frequent social media sites make venturing on there after anything less than an emphatic victory a soul-sapping, demoralising experience that makes you wonder why you even got up that day and why people have reduced themselves, as adults, to using the number of people at a football match as a form of criticism, along with “history” or income streams. Just think, you’re an adult, you run a twitter account with 12,000 followers and you think you’re being funny by joking that City fans must be torn right now because Chelsea are doing well. Just think what sad specimen of a human being is sitting at home in his under crackers typing that with a chuckle, thinking how he has got one over City fans or excited about the bile he will manage to elicit, before commenting that the Etihad is only full for One Direction gigs. Almost as sad as spending half the week writing blogs that no one reads.
Which brings us to Rio Ferdinand. Apart from the fact that Ferdinand is little more than a gurning amoeba, his comment questioning why city are expanding the stadium when they can’t fill the existing allocation revolves around the obsession that fans have that STADIUMS MUST BE FULL AT ALL TIMES. AT ALL TIMES. What’s more, a fan’s team filling a stadium is somehow seen as a thing of pride, something a fan can somehow take credit for.
As Ferdinand’s two brain cells bump around his empty head like two angry wasps trapped under a pint glass, he won’t comprehend the fact that maybe, JUST MAYBE, City’s owners are planning for the long-term future of the club, as shown perhaps by the soon-to-open £200m campus, by delivering a world-class stadium that will stand the test of time, and maybe, JUST MAYBE, they won’t call a halt to the construction work because of a few empty seats at a Champions League game. Just maybe. This is because they understand the concept of business and the need for a top-class infrastructure and facilities throughout the club that can deal with whatever the club faces in the future, as opposed to, say, leeching the club for half a billion pounds to prop up failing shopping mall businesses in their home country, to name a hypothetical example that probably does not exist anywhere, no siree.. That’s my theory anyway.
Of course part of the reason for the expansion is to provide a raft of cheaper season ticket prices starting from £299 but I wouldn’t expect gurning amoebas to grasp the minutiae of that either. There is a long waiting list who have placed deposits down to try and get these seats, so selling out the new seats is not an issue – it’s pricing the rest of the stadium appropriately that is the issue. Champions League ticket prices were quite competitively priced all things considered, but for many it is still too much.
The fact is, City don’t have as many fans as other big clubs. Whatever the reasons, it’s irrelevant – I wouldn’t lord it over a Rochdale fan because my club has more fans. I’d actually respect him more for following Rochdale, to be honest. It’s staggering that I have to point this out, but the number of fans that your club has, in front of TVs or in the ground, is not something for any fan to brag about. Any serious fan would see the empty seats and rather than mock realise that another nail in the coffin of modern football is slowly being hammered in. City fans, in increasing numbers, are making difficult choices. It’s a club supported by a large swathe of working-class fans who have come through a recession whilst prices continue to rise, and sacrifices are being made. For me it was the Capital One Cup – I will not go to that, as I simply can no longer afford to go to every City home game (the away games have long gone, which is even sadder in a way, Champions League away games are but a misty-eyed dream for me). For others, the Champions League will be the one to go, perhaps along with other stuff. Premier League attendances remain constant (whatever schoolboys may say on the internet, we sell out league games) because having a season ticket it still the important thing for many of us that have been watching this wonderful team through thin and thin and finally a bit of thick for many decades. It’s the one thing we hold onto. We hang onto that, for now, but some are already giving that up. It seems madness to give up on your team as they reach their greatest heights, but this is not a protest at Manchester City, it’s a protest at all the clubs and all of its owners, it’s a protest against modern football. The thrill is going, and in Manchester City’s time in the Champions League, it was never there in the first place. Supporters are customers now, an income source, and that’s the way it is, and has been for a while. One day the bubble will burst, but not in the foreseeable future.
The crux of the problem lies in Cup competitions then and the club need to realise the importance of pricing cup games correctly, otherwise we get the situation of full houses to watch Watford in the FA Cup but swathes of empty seats to watch Roma in the Champions League. Or maybe the apathy shows that we think the FA Cup trumps the Champions League. Those trips to Wembley are some of the greatest moments of our recent resurgence, days that will be treasured forever. The magic of the FA Cup remains. The ridiculous thing is we could drop into the Europa League, sell tickets for £15 for a game against someone like Schalke and the place would be rocking.
And who benefits most from these ever-rising ticket prices? Players like Rio Ferdinand, who even when his performances resemble that of a man staggering home from the pub with his pants down by his ankles still gets a plump new contract from his mate Harry “honest-as-the-day-is-long” Redknapp. Hell in a handcart. Ferdinand is a buffoon who craves a cheap shot at City, but what his comments show more than anything, from a multi-millionaire who never has to worry about where his next meal may come from or if his electricity will be cut off tomorrow is the staggering disconnect between many modern footballers and the average fan. I’m not sure it’s possible for people like Ferdinand to be more out of touch with reality.
So the ridiculous format now sees a double-header, for reasons that escape me, against CSKA Moscow. Qualification is still well within our grasp, so six points off the Russians will do for a start, thanks.
Still, we should be thankful – for all of Ferdinand’s faults, he can do no harm by spouting his thoughts on a Twitter account. It’s not as if he has any influence in shaping this game we love. Oh, hang on….