City's European campaign ends with a whimper
Borussia Dortmund 1 Manchester C 0:Another fitful performance, another soulless defeat. When some Premier League cheerleaders predicted that Manchester City might make a statement in Europe this season this, surely, was not what they had in mind.
A second-half goal from Julian Schieber ensured City tumbled out of the Champions League without a victory and with the lowest group stage points tally of any English team in the competition’s history.
Even the Blackburn side of 1995-96, hitherto regarded as representing the nadir of English incompetence in Europe’s premier club competition, managed four points. City secured three.
As defeats go, this at least has its compensations. Finishing bottom of Group D ensures that Roberto Mancini’s side escape being parachuted into the Europa League. No trips to Russia and Ukraine, Greece or Romania. Potentially nine fewer matches.
And no wearying carousel of Sunday-Thursday-Sunday matches. It might just help their prospects of retaining their title.
“We are the champions, the champions of England,” sang the City fans, defiant to the last. But on this freezing night in Dortmund the gap between them and the elite teams in Europe looked as deep as a chasm.
With Yaya Toure suspended and David Silva injured, City were missing their engine and their engineer. Instead, Scott Sinclair made his Champions League debut alongside Carlos Tevez and Samir Nasri in City’s attacking three, with Edin Dzeko leading the line. Still, this was as close to a first-team as Mancini could be expected to pick, with only Sergio Aguero and Pablo Zabaleta left on the bench with Sunday’s derby against Manchester United in mind.
It took 12 minutes for the first attempt on goal, although Oliver Kirch’s gentle lob from 20 yards was easily saved by Joe Hart. City were not threatening much either, especially with Javi Garcia mistiming passes in midfield.
On 20 minutes Marco Reus skipped past two players before running into the boot of Matija Nastasic f neither side created a significant chance on goal during the first quarter.
That nearly changed a minute later after Nasri drifted into space on the left flank and played in Dzeko, whose cross rolled across the six-yard the box with no City player close enough to capitalise. With the stadium alerting the crowd that Cristiano Ronaldo and Jose Maria Callejon had put Real Madrid 2-0 up against Ajax before the half-hour, City knew that a win would open the door to a Europa League place and they finally seemed to up their tempo, with Dzeko’s 20-yard shot palmed around the post by Roman Weidenfeller.
But it was Reus who had the best shot of the first half only for Hart, at full stretch, to tip his shot on to the post. As the first half drew to a close Dortmund were pressing with greater urgency and Hart had to be smart to save a speculative effort from Ivan Perisic.
From the restart, City nearly went ahead when Nasri’s cross found Dzeko, but his header from six yards lacked force or direction. Dortmund soon reasserted their dominance.
A battery of chances came and went: Mats Hummels, no more than three yards from goal, made minimal connection with an inviting Marcel Schmelzer free-kick. Hart palmed over Perisic’s flying volley from Ilkay Gundogan’s deep cross, before, a minute later, made an even better stop, getting a late wrist to Kevin Grosskreutz’s drive.
Just before the hour City brought on Aguero for the disappointing Sinclair but only seconds later they went behind as Jakub Blaszczykowski’s skinned Nastasic down the right before sending in a low cross that was tapped home by Schieber. The 23-year-old had wounded City, and a minute later he should have killed them off. But after being put through to a one-on-one his dink was saved by Hart at full stretch.
By now Dortmund were toying with the visitors and the home supporters were purring.
The jovial pre-Christmas mood was only interrupted when Mario Balotelli replaced Dzeko. The Italian was greeted with whistles which only eased when the Italian trod on the ball with his first touch.
The boos continued but they seemed to fire up City, with Tevez’s jinking run ending with a fine block from Weidenfeller.
But there was to be no late reprieve as Dortmund saw the game out. Indeed they should have scored again with the unmarked Leitner passing his shot wide from 10 yards and Hart smothering Lewandowski’s shot. This defeat flattered City just as much as their 1-1 draw at the Etihad had done. And Balotelli’s injury-time booking just made victory for Dortmund fans all the sweeter.