Manchester City are hoping to come of age in the Champions League this season but their plans were dealt a severe blow by a man who is now the competition’s oldest ever scorer.
Francesco Totti may have celebrated his 38th birthday on Saturday but he is still capable of moments of genius, as City found to their cost.
Leading thanks to Sergio Aguero’s penalty in a game they desperately needed to win, City allowed Totti to run beyond their defence and, with one delicate flick of his right boot, guide the ball past Joe Hart and into the corner of the net.
It was a finish that gave a glimpse as to why Totti has been a regular in the Roma first-team for the last 22 years — 16 of them as captain — and was simply too good for City.
“Looking at the whole 90 minutes we had the clearer opportunities and could’ve won,” said Totti afterwards.
“We proved what we are worth and what we can do in an arena like this. Our objective is to do our best, try to get through the group knowing it is not easy against sides like Bayern Munich and Manchester City, who are on our level if not better.
“Playing like this, we can get there.”
Manuel Pellegrini admitted his disappointment afterwards. “It’s never good just to draw and get only one point. We didn’t play well.”
In fact, it could be said that Roma as a whole were too good for City. This vibrant side, put together in just over a year by the impressive Rudi Garcia, dominated the majority of the play. This is set to be the tightest of groups and City’s trip to the Stadio Olimpico for the final group game in December already looks certain to be almost a knockout fixture.
For large swathes last night, it didn’t seem City would even get a point.
Roma were hugely impressive and were eventually left to curse their full-back, Maicon, for a brainless decision to haul down Sergio Aguero within four minutes to gift City a penalty. That was the highlight for the hosts, who will be concerned at their start to a competition they have stated they have to win ‘now’, having spent around €1.4bn since the arrival of Sheikh Mansour.
Their last-16 defeat to Barcelona last season was the first time they have progressed beyond the group stages, and failure to better that performance could well lead to the departure of Pellegrini.
It is well known that experience is vital to succeed in this competition — Manchester United and Chelsea both won the trophy for the first time seven years after their first Premier League victory — but City are not afforded the same leeway after their largesse.
That said, this was the club’s 89th appearance in European competition, while in a wonderful statistical quirk, Totti has now appeared for Roma in Europe on 90 occasions.
City’s 89th European game could not have begun any better, Maicon ludicrously pulling Aguero to the ground as he looked to run on to David Silva’s chipped pass.
It was a moment of recklessness that seemed surprising coming from a 33-year-old but one which was familiar to City fans after the Brazilian’s one-season spell at the club from the summer of 2012.
Aguero punished him fully, sending goalkeeper Lukasz Skorupski — a late call-up for injured first-choice Morgan De Sanctis — the wrong way from the spot.
It should have calmed City nerves but simply served to fire up the visitors, who reacted well to being behind for the first time this season.
Miralem Pjanic and Gervinho flitted around industriously but Radja Nainggolan was the key, breaking up City attacks and looking to play the killer ball when in possession.
Maicon hit the bar and Nainggolan forced Hart into a simple save but the warnings were not heeded, as Roma deservedly drew level after 23 minutes. Vincent Kompany was at fault as he left Totti unmarked but an unfortunate slip from Hart was crucial as it allowed Totti to reach Nainggolan’s through-ball ahead of the goalkeeper.
There was still much to do, but it was Totti who reacted superbly as he clipped a finish past Hart with the outside of his right foot.
It was a moment of sheer class and Roma — for whom Ashley Cole was outstanding — threatened to add to their tally. Pellegrini responded by bringing James Milner on for Jesus Navas at half-time but the game followed a similar pattern to the first as Totti fired wide before Hart made a fine save from Pjanic when a loose ball fell to him in the six-yard box.
The Bosnian then curled an effort inches past the post as Roma looked for the second goal their display deserved but the visitors started to settle into a more defensive unit as they realised a draw would be a fine result.
Substitute Frank Lampard did have an effort from distance but Skorupski was equal to it. By the end Roma were more than good enough value for their point, and City simply became the latest side to curse the ageless Totti.
MANCHESTER CITY: Hart 6, Zabaleta 7, Kompany 5, Demichelis 6, Clichy 6, Toure 5, Fernandinho 7, Navas 5 (Milner, 45; 6), Silva 6, Aguero 7, Dzeko 5 (Lampard, 57; 7).
ROMA: Skorupski 7, Maicon 6 (Torosidis, 89; 5), Manolas 7, Yanga-Mbiwa 8, Cole 8, Pjanic 8, Keita 8, Nainggolan 8, Gervinho 7, Totti 8 (Iturbe, 72; 6), Florenzi 7 (Holebas, 83; 5).
Referee: Bjorn Kuipers