City put to the sword by Mourinho's Madrid
SOCCER: Manchester City 1 Real Madrid 1: At least Manchester City spared themselves another defeat on their way out of the Champions League. It was, however, still another night that demonstrated their shortcomings at this level are considerable.
They have taken only three points from five games and their final match against Borussia Dortmund is now just a matter of whether they can clamber above Ajax to qualify for the Europa League.
Roberto Mancini’s team had been a conspicuous second-best until a dubious penalty for Sergio Aguero after 74 minutes, and the second yellow card it brought for Alvaro Arbeloa. The Premier League’s top side might have nicked it against the 10 men but the late onslaught that might have been anticipated never really materialised and the bottom line is it would have been undeserved.
They had been outclassed for long spells and, tactically, Mancini will have to reflect on a poor night of his own, experimenting with a three-man defence only to rip it up and start again in the midst of a first-half blitz in which it was remarkable Madrid’s superiority was rewarded only by Karim Benzema’s 10th-minute goal.
Off the goalline
The imbalance of talent in those moments was so extreme it felt like a trick of the imagination that City have not lost a league fixture on this ground for getting on two years. Madrid, without a hint of exaggeration, could have scored half a dozen times inside the opening half an hour.
Sami Khedira flashed one shot wide, did the same with a header and saw a third effort saved by Joe Hart. Matija Nastasic hooked one off the goalline after Cristiano Ronaldo had run clear. Ronaldo, a brutal opponent, seemed intent on tearing up Vincent Kompany’s credentials to be regarded as the Premier League’s outstanding centre-half. His second attempt was deflected wide and, by now, the home crowd had given up booing him. The noise, instead, was a sharp intake of breath.
Mancini had abandoned his 3-4-1-2 system by the midway point of the first half. At least he was willing to change his formation when it was patently not working. On the other hand, it was an admission of failure from the manager. Mancini had tried to outwit Jose Mourinho with his tactics and, a quarter of the way through the game, he was switching back to an orthodox back four to prevent the damage getting worse. The cold, harsh reality was that Madrid, playing in sharp, attacking bursts, had made light work of the original system.
City, in fact, may never have had a more dishevelled 20 minutes under Mancini. Aguero seemed intent on dragging them out of their rut but there were only sporadic moments when they threatened Iker Casillas’s goal and Mourinho was entitled to be frustrated at half-time that was all they had to show for it.
The goal was a soft one from City’s perspective and, once again, we saw that expression Mancini wears when his defence has been guilty of a severe form of sloppiness. Benzema was unmarked, inside the six-yard area, when he applied the final touch. That Mancini smile is becoming a regular theme of City’s Champions League nights.
City briefly roused themselves at the start of the second half but the improvement has to be put in context with how poor they had been before that point.
Mancini reacted on the hour by bringing on Tevez and the extra man in attack did make a difference.
Even so, the Italian referee, Gianluca Rocchi, was being generous to decide that Arbeloa had fouled Aguero for the penalty. Arbeloa could also consider himself hugely unfortunate to be shown a second yellow card when the first, for another foul on Aguero, was actually committed by Xabi Alonso. City, however, seldom troubled the 10 men, which probably said it all.