Manchester City have begun their assault on the domestic front but are no where near conquering Europe.
Writing this has been easy for me given Manchester City's form over the last couple of weeks. They are out of the Champions League and lost their unbeaten record in the Premier League after defeat at Chelsea. But ever since Roberto Mancini took over at City I have had my doubts.
Their inability to negotiate passage through to the next round of the Champions League should be cited as a travesty for everyone associated with the club. Simply because that team has no excuse but to qualify. This idea that it's their first real taste of Champions League football together is a lame and pathetic attempt at covering up the misgivings of a squad of international players who have all experienced success on the biggest stage.
I have nothing against the Premier League and it's competitive nature but when you look at the state of the teams around Mancherster City this season you begin to wonder if this team needs managing at all. The clubs reserve team for the reserve team could beat anyone in England on their day. The title was won before the first game of the season was played in August and although we are only in December you would be a brave person to put anyone above City for the title.
The Champions League is a different story entirely. There is no place to hide in this competition. If you do not perform on this stage you will always pay the price. One goal is the difference between qualification and elimination. One pass could make or break dreams. When this seasons draw grouped Manchester City alongside Bayern Munchen, Napoli and Villarreal there was no question about it being the group of death. Villarreal and to a lesser extent Napoli could have been forgiven for feeling a little hard done by. When the fixtures were arranged Bayern and City must have surely felt that their encounter on 6th and final matchday in the group in Manchester would decide who wins the group. All went to plan for the Bavarians but it didn't go so accordingly for the Citizens.
One point out of their two games with Napoli is where they lost the group. They should have beaten the Italians in the opening game but were undone by Napoli's clever tactics. Again, nerves were attributed for their inability to pick up three points as it was their 'debut' in Europe's elite competition. That excuse would hold credence if the players who started that game were born and bred in Manchester and had never played football anywhere else.
David Silva has started and won a European Cup final and was part of the World Cup winning squad two years later for Spain. Yaya Toure has won this competition with Barcelona and his brother Kolo was unlucky to lose out in the Paris final with Arsenal in 2006. Sergio Aguero and Edin Dzeko had goals and reputations in the competition before they joined City. The only player who can really be excused for falling short of expectations is Joe Hart. He was at Birmingham not so long ago and has easily been City's second best player this season behind Silva.
So if it's not the players fault you can only go next up in the chain of command and analyse Roberto Mancini's performance levels. It's only fair. He makes all the major decisions and is ultimately responsible for results on the pitch. What's really interesting is that this is an all too farmiliar situation for the Italian. When he was in charge of Inter they swept all before them in Serie A but constantly hit dead ends in Europe. It took a complete transformation courtesy of his predecessor Jose Mourinho to help Massimo Moratti realise his Champions League dreams.
Rafael Benitez, who in five years failed to master the dynamics of English football, was a master of the European philosophy. He led a Liverpool side that had the likes of Igor Biscan and Djimi Traore to European Cup success after just nine months in charge. And to clear up any ideas that anyone had about that Liverpool team being a product of the Gerard Houllier era a second final appearance two years later justified Benitez's tactical qualities in Europe.
What's most annoying is that Sir Alex Ferguson has faced more criticism than Mancini has. I am not saying that United's exit wasn't as embarassing as City's, if not more, but Fergie deserved a lot more leverage in the media's evaluation. Not even Barcelona have a record of three European Cup finals in four years. I would put United's exit down to their managers stubborn mentality with regards to strengthening his squad. Ferguson will learn from that as he always has done. Mancini has had no such problems what with the wealth of talent available to him and yet they were given the easy ride in the press.
I could be guilty of being overly critical of the whole Manchester City project here but based on what I have seen in the short space of time that Mancini has been in charge I really don't ever see City reaching the European heights that Manchester United have. Mancini doesn't have what it takes to go all the way in this competition. Perhaps they might rival the likes of Barcelona and Real Madrid in one off games but those one off games only come around if you can get far enough and that sadly won't be the case for another season. The likes of Leo Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo sporting the jersey's of Europe's elite outfits at the Etihad stadium is now an inevitable reality for City fans but European club footballs most prestigous piece of silverware is still a dream that will continue to elude them. So long as Mancini is in charge.