No excuses for Manchester City’s premature European exit

2011-12-10 00:00

NO matter what reasons Manchester City try to give for their first-round exit, their inability to qualify for the knockout rounds of the Champions League must be regarded as an abject failure.

The current unbeaten Premier League leaders are not a rag-bag punch of hopefuls who had an outside chance of making the last 16.

They are among the most expensively assembled squads ever put together in English soccer, with players such as Yaya Toure, Vincent Kompany, Kolo Toure, Gael Clichy, David Silva and even the absent Carlos Tevez, all experienced Champions League campaigners with their previous clubs.

Yaya Toure (Barcelona) Kolo Toure (Arsenal), Tevez and Owen Hargreaves (both Manchester United) have all played in Champions League finals, while Dutchman Nigel de Jong has played in the World Cup final.

Owner Sheikh Mansour Bin Zayed Al Nahyan of Abu Dhabi has invested almost a billion dollars in the club and players over the last three years and may have to spend even more to realise the ambition, expressed by a former chief executive, of making City the best team in the world.

According to various apologists, City finished third in Group A behind Bayern Munich and Napoli because of a gulf in class between the Champions League and the Premier League — but that did not stop Arsenal or Chelsea, who have both struggled with form domestically, winning their groups.

The failure of Manchester United to make it through to the knockout stages for only the third time in 17 years was due to poor play and bad defending during their six matches, which can afflict any team.

City’s failure to do so was because they failed to adapt to the greater demands good teams put on them, even though they have an array of talent most clubs can only envy.

According to Jens Lehmann, who reached the Champions League final with Arsenal in 2006 and has the unenviable record of being the first player and only goalkeeper sent off in a final, City were simply not good enough.

After seeing them beat Bayern Munich 2-0 on Wednesday, a result that failed to carry them through because of Napoli’s win over Villarreal, Lehmann said he is delighted City failed to advance.

He told German TV: “They play very, very boring football. They just make their opponents fall asleep with lots of possession.

“But to be honest, that is not tactically very demanding. The way they play here is the way any amateur team plays, only not on such good grass.

“They just pack men behind the ball, have five against two and just move the ball around.

“The goal then just comes from a fortunate circumstance.”

He said he is also unimpressed by the atmosphere at their Etihad Stadium ground.

“There was no life in the ground. The fans are so quiet …”

Despite their failure to advance among Europe’s elite, City will now play in Uefa’s second-rung competition, the Europa League, after Christmas.

However, they are still unbeaten in the Premier League, and barring a collapse in the second half of the season, are favourites to win the title for the first time since 1968.

They could still end up winning four trophies this season: Premier League, Europa League, FA Cup and League Cup, which would be a very impressive haul.

Manager Roberto Mancini was keeping positive after their unwanted Champions League departure.

“We go into the Europa league. It’s another trophy and it’s an important trophy for Manchester City,” he told reporters.

“It’s a disappointment because we wanted to play in the Champions League. We got 10 points and normally that is enough to go through, so it seems very hard to go out with 10 points.

“If you are in the final it will be very important because I’ve never won the Europa League. We are a good team. We played well, we’re very sorry for our supporters and I’m sorry for our players.

“I think we need to improve as a team because we got a tough group this year.”

Their campaign was blighted from the first game when they were held 1-1 at home by Napoli, and it quickly got worse when they were beaten 2-0 by Bayern Munich in their second match when, for reasons yet to be fully explained, Tevez failed to appear as a second-half substitute after being told to warm-up by Mancini.

Disciplined and in self-imposed exile, he has not played for City since.

Home and away wins over Villarreal gave them some renewed hope, but their fate was effectively sealed when they lost 2-1 at Napoli on November 22.

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