Man City continue to experience European struggle
Published: 31.10.12 / Written by: David Gold
Man City take on Ajax net week in the Champions League hoping for a crucial victory to help keep their hopes of qualifying for the last sixteen intact.
Yet even if they do win, their chances of making the knock out stage seem slim. Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund are now heavy favourites, and it will be difficult for City to work their way back into contention.
So why are City struggling so much? For one thing, the quality of English football has declined. City may be English champions, but that is not as significant as it would have been a few years ago in European context. The level of the top teams has come down. Where once Chelsea, Arsenal, Manchester United and Liverpool competed on an even footing with Barcelona and Real Madrid, now the Spanish giants are far ahead of them, and the rest of Europe. And Germany has caught up and even overtaken. The best team in Germany, Borussia Dortmund, outplayed Man City decisively in this year’s competition. And the two leagues third best teams, Schalke and Arsenal, met last week and it was the Germans again who were comfortable winners. And although they have won all their games so far, Man Utd have struggled in each match, and it would take a confident punter to bet on them beating Bayern Munich at this moment in time.
Placed in a group with Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund, it is surely unrealistic for City to expect to finish in the top two, even if performing at their best, as they are up against two superior sides on paper. And then there is Ajax, whom many expected them to beat. That they didn’t surprised City observers. But the reason they lost was remarkably simple. With Christian Eriksen in a false nine position, he dropped back to create an effective four man central midfield which was able to dominate possession. Without the ball, City are vulnerable defensively. In England they are dominant because they usually dominate matches and rarely have to endure pressure. But in Europe they often have to face teams who have the ball for long periods. And against Ajax they found themselves without the ball more often than they had it. As a result, Ajax were likely to win that game as City’s defence is not particularly solid.
In all, they have now played nine games at this level and arguably in only three did they look competitive. Against Bayern Munich at home last season, but the Germans had already won the group and played an under strength team. And then in two games against Villarreal, who were relegated from La Liga last year.
In Bayern, Dortmund and Madrid they have faced three sides who are simply better than them. Ajax tactically outwitted Mancini, while the other team they have faced is Napoli. On paper City should be beating Napoli, but the Partonepei are a difficult team to play. They have a clever counter attacking system with three hard working forwards that causes problems for big teams. They have an excellent record in the last couple of seasons against Inter and AC Milan as a result, as their system works best against teams who try to dominate and come onto them. They have the strength in numbers with a three man defence and defensively minded four man midfield to cope, and then hit teams on the break. They remain the only team to have beaten Juventus since the 2010-11 season.
So there are two issues at play for City. One is that they have come up against a number of teams who are simply better than them. This is not bad luck. UEFA’s coefficients are there for a reason, and City can only be seeded better by making progress at this level. Chelsea, Liverpool, Arsenal and Man Utd have all had to do it, and have done so successfully. City can’t complain about that. And against better teams, City are finding that they are unable to cope defensively because they do not have the ball enough. When playing teams who on paper are weaker than they are, City and Mancini in particular, are being tactically out manoeuvred.
Until they find an answer to either problem their European travails are likely to continue to flounder, rather than improve.