Mancini tactics leave City in a Real mess
Manchester City 1 Real Madrid 1
Manchester City’s Sergio Aguero celebrates scoring from the penalty spot.
By Graham Chase
Eleven games into Manchester City’s life in the Champions League and Roberto Mancini’s side are still showing no real signs of adapting to Europe’s top competition.
Sergio Aguero pulled one back from the spot to earn a draw after Karim Benzema’s early opener but their failure to win ensured that City failed to progress to the knock-out phase for the second successive year.
And, just as last season’s 2-0 win over Bayern Munich, their game against Dortmund next month will be a dead rubber.
Five games into this campaign they are still looking for a first win and although they lead the Premier League, they looked woefully short of quality against the Spanish champions.
But City boss Mancini dismissed speculation that City may prefer to finish bottom of their pool following their final group match in Dortmund, rather than take third place ahead of Ajax and with it a place in the often maligned Europa League.
“We want to be in the Europa League, if it is possible,” he said.
For Madrid boss Jose Mourinho, the stalemate meant his side would go into the last 16 as the runners-up in Group D behind Borussia Dortmund, but the Portuguese was unfazed by that prospect.
“The only two times I finished second in the group, I won the champions League,” he said.
Mourinho also had a sly dig at City, declaring: “It’s incredible when you look at their array of players they have not qualified two years in a row.
“If it was Madrid (who went out like City) I don’t think the press would let me return to Madrid.”
City’s unlikely mission was again not aided by Mancini’s tactics, which saw City’s three-man backline pulled apart in the opening quarter until the Italian, who claims to have used the system on 50 occasions last term, switched to a back four.
It may be the kind of discussion for the playground but, Aguero aside, it was hard to make a case that any of the City players would make it into the Madrid line-up on this evidence.
There is no real disgrace in failing to qualify from a group of this quality. But it is the manner of City’s elimination – with no other end result ever really looking on the cards — that will trouble their supporters.
Once again they showed they could trouble Jose Mourinho’s team. But the threat only came when it was too late.
Since City twice let a lead slip in the Bernabeu to lose 3-2 in their opening game, they have been playing catch-up and it proved to be the case once again last night.
On Tuesday, Mourinho claimed City were finished in this season’s competition but there are still some wondering if they ever even got started. City certainly provided plenty of early snap but the deficiencies of the three-man defence were exposed with Real’s first real attack.
Luka Modric worked the ball to the right and Angel Di Maria cut inside and bent a cross to the far post that left Pablo Zabaleta and Maicon thinking the other was dealing with Benzema and the Frenchman was left with an easy tap-in after just nine minutes.
Over the course of the next 10 minutes, Real should have put the game to sleep, with German midfielder Sami Khedira drilling wide from a Ronaldo cross and then heading past the post from another good ball from the Portuguese, who had embarrassed Vincent Kompany.
Then Ronaldo himself was played through by Xabi Alonso and after glancing his shot past Joe Hart, Matijia Nastasic hacked off the line before Ronaldo’s follow-up was deflected wide of goal.
Former Atletico Madrid man Aguero, still looking for his first win against Real, finally threatened for the hosts after 21 minutes, when his dipping shot was swatted over the bar by Iker Casillas.
And Maicon, so often exposed defensively, also went close when he surged forward and swapped passes with Aguero before prodding just past the post.
Mancini then switched to a back four and at least City looked less easy to prise open on the break but Edin Dzeko wasted another opening when he sliced wide from a Silva cross.
The Italian replaced Aleksander Kolarov with Javi Garcia at the interval to at least allow Yaya Toure to push forward into an area where he might trouble Real.
Aguero continued to threaten after the interval and the little Argentinian glanced a header wide from a Maicon cross and his heavy touch also robbed him of the chance to worry Casillas from a clever Silva pass.
Even when they thought they had pulled one back when Aguero made contact with Maicon’s driven cross, Casillas somehow spread himself to claw away.
There was hope when Alvaro Arbeloa pulled Aguero over in the box and the little Argentinian got up to bury the penalty but an unlikely win never looked on the cards.
MAN CITY (3-5-2): Hart; Zabaleta, Kompany, Nastasic; Maicon, Toure, Silva, Nasri (Tevez 60), Kolarov (Garcia 46); Dzeko, Aguero (Milner 88)
REAL MADRID (4-2-3-1): Casillas; Arbeloa, Ramos, Pepe, Coentrao; Khedira, Alonso; Di Maria (Albiol 90), Modric, Ronaldo; Benzema (Varane 75).
Referee: Gianluca Rocchi (Italy).
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