As Manchester City played out their last match in this year’s Champions League, there was a feeling of resignation amongst the players. Did they even want to qualify for the Europa League?
Martin Tyler tried his best to glamorise the competition, but the simple fact is that for a club like Manchester City, who are attempting to defend their maiden Premier League title and are yet to enter the domestic cup, the Europa League may well be more of a burden rather than a privilege.
Then again, for a club like Manchester City, to prefer to be excluded from European competition smacks of an arrogance that they are yet to deserve on the continent.
When the four teams were pulled out of the hat for Group D in late August, City would no doubt have winced at the talent they were drawn alongside; the German champions, the Spanish champions and the Dutch champions.
In Borussia Dortmund, Real Madrid and Manchester City, Group D possessed three of the strongest sides in the competition. Nevertheless, the manner in which City succumbed to elimination is cause for concern for Roberto Mancini.
In their six games, City failed to register a single win. For a club that has spent close to a billion pounds (source) in transforming itself over the past four years, that statistic will not sit well with the manager and, more crucially, the board.
You get the impression that this year was supposed to be the season in which City were expected to make ground on Europe’s elite clubs. They broke their trophy duck in 2010 with the FA Cup, and they followed that up with a Premier League title a year later.
Therefore, progress in Europe would have represented a natural trajectory for the club. That has failed to come to fruition this season.
For all the talk that City are simply happy to be handed the chance to compete in Europe’s premier competition, given that it wasn’t long ago that they were playing the likes of Gillingham in the English third tier, the same could be said for Borussia Dortmund.
Despite being a dominant force in German football at the turn of the millennium, horrendous mismanagement and a laissez-faire approach to finances meant that the club from Prussia almost declared bankruptcy in 2005.
Three years later, the club battled with relegation for a large chunk of the season and finished only nine points above the drop. A major restructuring took place, and Jurgen Klopp was appointed manager in 2008.
His tactical nous and brilliant man-management has propelled Dortmund back to the top of German football, and they are considered dark-horses for Champions League this year.
Like Man City, their experience in the Champions League last season represented something of a learning curve for the young Dortmund side. They finished bottom of a group that contained Arsenal and Marseille.
However, unlike City, they seemed to have learnt from their mistakes and they finished top of a very difficult group this year.
Whilst it is impossible to compare the two styles of the clubs, an issue has to be raised with the strategy Roberto Mancini deployed. The fact that they recorded only three points at home is a major problem that has to be addressed.
As many an experienced manager has stressed over the years, Sir Alex Ferguson being chief among them, you must win your home games if you are to have a chance of progressing from the groups.
In the last six group games that City have played at home under Mancini in the Champions League, the club have won only two of them. Compare that to the likes of Bayern Munich (5/5), Real Madrid (5/6) and Barcelona (4/5), and it goes a long way to explain City’s failures in Europe over the past two years.
Of course, it is not the only issue that explains their misgivings (you’d need an inquiry for that).
The main problem now that they have failed to advance in Europe for the second year running is that next season there is a possibility that they could be drawn in a similarly difficult group.
City are likely to remain as third seeds for next season’s draw, and therefore they will inevitably come across one of Europe’s strongest sides in the group stages. Progression is a must for the club, though whether Roberto Mancini will be present to oversee qualification is another matter.
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