So Manchester City must learn to play in Europe? Where does this nonsense come from? This is one of the most expensively assembled squads in history. The heartbeat, as opposed to Hartbeat, of the team ticks along continental lines. Yaya Toure, David Silva, Mario Balotelli, Sergio Aguero, Samir Nasri, Javi Garcia, Vincent Kompany, Edin Dzeko, etc. Sophisticated enough for you? These are players of the highest quality. The latter has a Bundesliga championship medal in his sock drawer from his days at Wolfsburg, a spell that yielded four career goals against Borussia Dortmund.
It is a fallacy to argue that City are somehow Champions League inadequates. The problem is twofold. One, the quality of the opposition in Group B, two, the demands of competing on two fronts, Champions League and Premier League. In Real Madrid, where they lost only in the final seconds a fortnight ago, and Borussia Dortmund, City are facing arguably two of the three best teams in Europe.
There is no out ball in Cluj for the blue half of Manchester, no trip to Braga to ease passage to the knockout stage. City have been effectively dropped into a Champions League group of semi-final quality. Let’s see how they go against Ajax next up before we judge their competence. There is no shame in drawing at home to BVB. This is the same team that blew away Bayern Munich 5-2 at the end of last season en route to the German championship. Yes that would be the same Munich team that knocked Real Madrid out of the Champions League before dominating Chelsea in the final.
City would cruise through most groups. The learning requirement relates to the most efficient way of reconciling Champions League demands with those of the Premier League. That is a management conundrum that will test Roberto Mancini most. It may have had an impact already. Mancini chose not to start with Carlo Tevez, his most impressive striker this season, or Balotelli, who terrorised the best international defences at the European Championships in the colours of Italy.
In the immediacy of defeat Mancini said that he knew what was wrong and how to put it right. This was clearly a reference to the make-up of his side, though he did not explain his thinking. As well as Tevez, City missed the solidity of Joleon Lescott at centre-back. In the midfield Spanish acquisition Javi Garcia has yet to make a substantial impact. While I’m no fan of James Milner as a creative outlet, as a midfield grafter he has a role to play.
Dortmund dominated through the nimble feet of Mario Gotze, the hard running of Marcus Reus and the mobility of Ilkay Gundogan and Robert Lewandowski. City had plenty of first-half possession but nil penetration. Nasri failed to make any impression linking the midfield and forwards, placing huge strain on the excellent Silva and starving Dzeko and Aguero of useful, quick ball. Yaya Toure was pushed further and further back by the lightening raids of Gotze and Reus.
In retrospect this was a night for Tevez not Nasri, Balotelli not Dzeko, Milner not Garcia, Lescott not Matija Nastasic. But Mancini is not blessed with hindsight. He is balancing team selection with the needs of the Premier League. City are out again on Saturday lunchtime against Sunderland, another must win game. This is the learning process in which City are engaged; who to pick and when, not how to contest a match in Europe.
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