City suffer opening night nerves

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Roberto Mancini called it Manchester City's special day, but in truth the club's first foray into the Champions League fell flat as Napoli, themselves debuting in the competition, spoiled the party.

Given their perfect start to their Barclays Premier League season, Wednesday night's game was supposed to be the beginning of City's emergence onto the top table in European football. The memories of Paul Dickov's late salvo at Wembley, forgotten, this was their time.

Having played just once in Serie A this season, the Italian's were expected to role over at the sight of City's multi-million pound squad, but clearly, given their free flowing performance, they hadn't read the script.

Prior to the game all the talk had been not only about how far City can go in this year's competition, but whether they could, given the chance, tackle the might of Barcelona.

On yesterday evening's showing, Mancini's men have someway to go to learn the art of performing on the continent. Nearly 1500 miles south, neighbours United were churning out their latest classic away performance in this competition.

Something that has been held against City in their bid to win the Premier League title is the lack of experience they possess in closing out title wins in England, and despite having a plethora of Champions League appearances in their squad, the rule appears, at least after last night's showing, to be just as true in Europe.

Not having the ability to conform to a European style is one that as a unit a team learns over time, and unfortunately for the club's wealthy owners, isn't a trait that can be bought readily.

This is not a slight on Mancini's team. To have built a side, regardless of the stars available, to perform like they have in the early weeks in the season is miraculous management. To have adapted and produced the same in Europe would have been a masterstroke.


Given this, yesterday's result could temper expectations that could be to the benefit of City. So impressive their performances have been that supporters and pundits alike were talking up a semi-final birth in their maiden Champions League season. A reality check, if you like.

However, if you believe all the hype, all the talk that City are the real deal, that their near neighbours will be toppled in the Barclays Premier League and that dominance in the Champions League will take merely a season, then where does last night result leave them?

Assuming that Bayern Munich, who overcame Villarreal in Spain yesterday evening, will top the group, City have effectively drawn at home against the team they hope will finish third.

Mancini won't need Arsene Wenger or Sir Alex Ferguson to tell you that winning your home games is imperative to assuring safe passage to the knockout round, and with Munich next up at the Allianz Arena, hopes of salvaging a Europa League spot, let alone reaching the semi-finals, could soon look bleak.

The way the fixtures pan out for City, in the group stage and domestically hasn't been kind, and as of yet, we're waiting to be convinced that City's large squad can actually deal with the demands of challenging for the title, and keep their European season ticking over.

United had the luxury of making eight chances to their starting XI following their demolition of Bolton Wanderers, while City made five after overrunning Wigan Athletic and in the context of the group, Ferguson's side have emerged with the far more credible result.

So perhaps City's form in this competition isn't going to be about brute quality, but how Mancini manages his squad, and where his priorities lie; with the prestige of the league or the glitz of the Champions League? Given the improvements he made to his team against Napoli, his decision may have already been made.

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European News
Manchester City
UEFA Champions League

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