Manchester City fluff their European lines yet again

Manuel Pellegrini’s side fail to translate Premier League form to Champions League

Alvaro Morata  celebrates with his Juventus team-mates after scoring their  second goal in the Champions League match against Manchester City at Etihad Stadium. Photograph: Phil Noble/Reuters/Livepic

Alvaro Morata celebrates with his Juventus team-mates after scoring their second goal in the Champions League match against Manchester City at Etihad Stadium. Photograph: Phil Noble/Reuters/Livepic

 

Manchester City 1 Juventus 2

For Manchester City, the sense of deja vu must feel suffocating. They have been rampant so far in the Premier League but then the Champions League anthem plays and suddenly they look rudderless and vulnerable. It has become a recurring theme and, now in their fifth season of trying to find the right formula, they still look conspicuously short of being a team that understands European football at this level.

It must certainly have been startling for Manuel Pellegrini to see the way his team crumpled in the final stages and a winning position became a losing one. Juventus were simply too streetwise and experienced for them and City’s route through Group D now looks fraught with danger. Pellegrini’s men had not conceded a goal in 10 hours and 36 minutes by the time Mario Mandzukic turned in the first goal for Juventus.

City had opened the scoring, controversially, with an own-goal from Giorgio Chiellini that should never have stood but their naivety in the last 20 minutes, culminating in Alvaro Morata’s elegant winning goal, smacked of a team that has not learned a great deal from their previous ordeals in this competition.

Juventus might not have managed a win in Serie A so far this season but the team that have just reeled off four Scudetti showed the tenacity and European knowhow that took them to last season’s final. They chased the ball down with great urgency, often doubling up on their opponents, but it quickly became apparent they were not just here to defend and it was only a marginal offside decision that prevented Massimiliano Allegri’s team taking an 11th-minute lead.

Paul Pogba, who showed some lovely touches in his midfield mano-a-mano with Yaya Touré, had attacked Juan Cuadrado’s cross from an onside position but Morata was ahead of play and his attempt to get there first, directly in front of Joe Hart, meant that the assistant referee made the correct decision under the new rules about interfering with play.

By that stage Raheem Sterling was already reflecting on a wasted chance to put City ahead, when Fernandinho’s driving run into the penalty area set him up for a chance that could have changed the entire complexion of the night. Sterling was clear on goal, advancing from the left of the penalty area, but his finish was tentative and Gianluigi Buffon spread his imposing frame to make the save.

The rest of the first half was nothing like as encouraging for Pellegrini’s side. Juventus are experts when it comes to slowing down opponents, whereas the Premier League leaders are always at their best when the pace is fast and frenetic. There were still chances for City and Fernandinho was only a yard or so wide when he let fly from outside the penalty area, but the early chance for Sterling was the only occasion in the opening 45 minutes when the home team managed to get behind the opposition defence.

Wilfried Bony slipped the ball through Leonardo Bonucci’s legs to create one opportunity but he followed up the deception with a wild shot. Bony is a fine player but he does not have the same darting movement of Sergio Agüero and, by half-time, the Italian defence was starting to look relatively comfortable.

There were also times at the start of the second half when carelessness crept in. David Silva, of all people, could be seen misplacing a straightforward pass. Touré was struggling to exert his usual influence and when the competition is so fierce Samir Nasri cannot expect to establish a regular place unless he plays with greater threat. More than anything, it was the lack of fluency between City’s attacking quartet that was most unusual.

For Juventus, Cuadrado showed more in one night than he managed during five listless months at Chelsea. Hernanes had a fine game in central midfield and the opening goal came just at the point of the match when it seemed like Allegri’s team were taking control.

Chiellini was outraged and the protests, justifiably, were long and vociferous. Vincent Kompany had been using the defender’s back to gain a few inches, pinning his opponent to the ground in the process. Chiellini could not get out of the way and Silva’s corner struck him flush in the face, bounced off his considerable nose and angled past Buffon.

A couple of minutes later, there was a reminder of why Buffon is still the world’s most expensive goalkeeper, the Italian denying Sterling for a second time and then producing an even better save to keep out Silva’s follow-up effort, and that was a crucial moment bearing in mind what happened in the 70th minute. Juventus kept the ball patiently, working the space before Pogba had possession where he wanted and angle to drift over a cross from the left. Mandzukic had peeled away from Eliaquim Mangala and jutted out one of his long legs to turn the ball past Hart.

It was a fine goal but Morata’s finish was an even better piece of centre forward play, latching on to the loose ball after a long chip forward had struck Aleksandar Kolarov on his shoulder, then striking a wonderful left-foot shot to curl the ball into the net via the far post.

(Guardian service)

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