There was one side last night who was genuine contenders for the Champions League, the other was merely an expensive pretender.

 

They called it the “billion pound” match. It was a much hyped affair and understandably so. It was a game between two clubs, both with very different historys and achievements, yet both who in the present have serious aspirations of winning the Champions League this season. It was also a game which highlighted the differences between their managers and why one side has a genuine chance of success and the other has a long way to go.

Learning lessons from last year

There was much to talk prior to the game about the players, manager and teams. It would be the first time that the managers would face each other since Mancini was replaced by Mourinho at Inter in 2008. Since then both managers have achieved success and won trophies. Yet both have intentions this season to succeed in Europe. 

As much as City’s owners may talk about the “project” being ahead of schedule, the side on paper is capable of achieving something and rest assured Mancini will be judged on hisEuropean performance (something which has been sketchy at best in the past). 

Added to the issues surrounding Ronaldo and his unhappiness, the poor performance, attitude and lack of discipline of the Madrid side in recent weeks, and City were perhaps believing they could take something from the game.

Last year both of these sides learnt lessons about theirselves from the same side; Bayern Munich. Bayern taught both Mancini and Mourinho what they lacked in order to win the Champions League. 

In the first group game last season City faced Bayern at the Allianz in a manner befitting a naïve and ignorant teenager. Seemingly all out attack meant spaces were opened at the back and Bayern punished City twice for poor defending. The inclusion of Kolo Toure that game was a puzzling decision also and yet questions were not asked of Mancini after that game due to the incident with Tevez. 

Taking away the Tevez incident, Mancini should have learnt that in Europe, especially away, you need to adapt your tactics and play smarter. It was not the Premier League where City can overpower and simply out class sides, Bayern were equal or perhaps better than City and Mancini underestimated them and failed.

Jose Mourinho encountered Bayern much later in the tournament in the semi final’s. Many believed a Barca Madrid final was inevitable, yet Bayern should not have been underestimated. It was close battle between the two sides.  Bayern dominated the games, expect for perhaps only 20 minutes in the 2nd leg did Madrid actually outplay Bayern. 

Bayern dominated much of the two legs, importantly, in midfield. The trio of Schweinsteiger, Gustavo and Kroos outplayed Madrid’s Alonso, Khedira and Ozil. In a 4-2-3-1 the creative no.10 must help out the midfield if they are being overrun, Kroos made it a 3v2 and Ozil failed to help, which meant Madrid were outplayed. 

Jose has learnt his lesson this season from that defeat because in has come the talented, disciplined Luka Modric whose role at Spurs has become a central midfielder over the previous No. 10 when he was younger. It has given him the extra defensive capabilities of which Ozil lacks. Added to the midfield Michael Essien and Madrid’s midfield appears stronger (unfortunately Essien is not the player he was when Jose had him at Chelsea, yet if he stays fit he could still help the team).

And so we come to the opening game of the Champions League

Last night was a chance to see what the managers had learnt from last season. Both said they were intent on winning the game. Yet only one side genuinely deserved to win it. 

Mourinho started with a 4-3-3, there was no room for Ozil or even Modric, instead he chose Essien and had Khedira play as his “Lampard”. Personally I do not think Khedira is effective in this role to support the attack yet Madrid dominated the first half, with much success coming from Ronaldo.

Mancini decided to play his favoured 4-2-3-1 yet for me made a mistake in playing Yaya Toure higher up the pitch. It was too early to use this tactic of which he likes to do late in games. It exposed Garcia and Barry who could not get on the ball and limited the link between the midfield and forwards. It meant Madrid dominated possession and created many chances of which they should have scored in the first half.

Not preparing for Ronaldo?

The decision not to play James Milner on the right was puzzling also, perhaps he was injured. Yet Maicon (another surprise choice especially after what happened to him against Gareth Bale) who was chosen over the impressive Zabaleta, was not given support by Nasri in that first 30 minutes. Ronaldo and Marcelo created space and chances several times in that opening 20 minutes and made you wonder if Mancini had prepared for this game at all. 

The lack of support from Javi Garcia or Kompany was also puzzling. Ronaldo 1v1 is very dangerous and City simply allowed it time and time again. It was poor tactics and preparation from Mancini.

If It wasn’t for Joe Hart in the first half, and perhaps the wastefulness of Higuain and Khedira than Madrid could have been 1 or 2 goals up. City were simply terrible and those who say City played well in that first half are delusional. 

Ineffective and pointless

Although they were set out more defensively in terms of position on the pitch, they were exposed behind too easily and the gap between midfield and the forwards and the lack of support from the front players of Tevez, Nasri and Silva was non-existent. When they did get possession of the ball all those three players could not retain the ball and Madrid came back on the attack time again. 

City produced only one attack of note that first half and that came from a deeper run from Toure. If he had played deeper to start he could have made more of those runs and exposed Madrid’s defence and slow midfield. Yet Mancini played him out the game.

In that first half one could see the gulf between the Spanish and English champions. One side looked driven, composed and positive. The other looked overwhelmed, unconfident and dare I say it, scared of the occasion. It was only Yaya Toure and perhaps Joe Hart who portrayed confidence and belief.

Second half, a game of chess

In the second half City defended even deeper. Now whether this was because of the penetration in the first half or because the players were worried (Mancini has a tendency to say his side are too deep in many games) it was actually more effective. The ball and play was in front of the defence and Madrid were restricted to long shots. Although Marcelo had two which were close, Di Maria had a few and Ronaldo threatened, the distances meant that City and Joe Hart were relatively happy.

Vincent Kompany had clearly been informed to support Maicon more and help out against Ronaldo and his influence for the first 25 minutes was reduced compared to the first half.

It was a game of chess between the two managers and both felt changes were necessary to go for the win. Mourinho took out Essien and brought on Ozil, a move which surprised me very much. Modric would have given Madrid the necessary creativity to open up City yet would also importantly keep the midfield solid and secure. Ozil, although an excellent playmaker is a liability for the midfield, especially when the ball is lost. This was the case for City’s goal.

City score against the run of play

Dzeko came on for Silva and gave City more direction and strength up front immediately. One wonders why Dzeko was not selected from the start; his presence would have caused more problems for Madrid’s defence and he would have been much more effective at holding up the ball than Tevez. 

Chelsea showed how important a player of that type is when you are defending deep and compact. Immediately Dzeko gave City more penetration and movement behind. Yet it was Yaya Toure who provided the impetus again. A deep run out of midfield exposed Madrid’s gaping holes and he played Dzeko through to score and give City the lead. It seemed so easy. 

The use of Tevez, Silva and Nasri gave City nothing in terms of attacking or holding up the ball and especially nothing in defence. Once again Mancini got it wrong.

Defensive concerns for City

It was a flattering result for City who had offered nothing in terms of quality, yet they had a lead. It was however to be short lived and the goal from Marcelo along with Ronaldo’s winning goal highlights the issues Mancini needs to address with his midfield. Marcelo had already come inside twice before and shot and when he did it this time and went inside on his right, there was no one close to him to close him down. His shot hit Garia who was 10 yards off and went in. It was nothing short of what Madrid deserved.

And yet, City scored again. Nothing spectacular in terms of quality. A hopeful freekick which was missed by Alonso ended up in the goal. City appeared to have pulled off an impressive win, against the run of play, the sign of a winning side? Just like Mourinho’s sides. And yet, as like the games against Southampton, against Chelsea in the Charity Shield, the set pieces against Liverpool City have shown they are defensive frail this season. City have not kept a clean sheet in any of their games this season and this is a worrying occurrence for Mancini.

The two goals from Madrid in the final minutes showed up City’s defensive failings. Benzema’s goal was not screened by Barry and he received it too easily on the edge of the area. The new Serbian defender Nastasic was too far off Benzema and gave him the time to turn and shoot. It was far too easy. Similar to chances early in the game, yet this time City were punished.

And finally, that winning goal from Ronaldo. It summed up the terrible defending from City and exemplified why this team will not come close to succeeding in Europe. Ronaldo received the ball 1v1 against Zabaleta, something he wants to does every game. Any player, fan or coach should know what he wants to do. 

And so when he went inside, surely Javi Garcia should have read it and got across. You even see Gareth Barry tell him to go across. Yet he stands still and watches. Watches Ronaldo hit a fairly tame shot straight at Kompany’s head. And yet what happens? Kompany ducked, he DUCKED! Joe Hart was blindsided and the ball went in. It was a shambles of a goal and one which should worry the manager and fans.

Mourinho knew what that meant, for him, his team and the fans it was very significant. For Mancini it was also significant, because the side which seemed so dominant domestically was all over the place in Madrid.

Let me highlight some key issues from the game.

Cristiano Ronaldo

Madrid had in total 28 shots, with 12 on target. Whether home or away this is far too many. Cristiano Ronaldo had 10 shots in the game, of which 7 were on target. Joe Hart was forced into many saves from him and others. Simply City’s defence and midfield did not do enough to prevent Ronaldo being effective. 

Too often he was left 1v1, something he loves to be. Too often support came late or not at all. And importantly, not enough of City’s players were willing to put themselves and their bodies on the line to prevent those shots. Ronaldo was good, yet City allowed it too easily. Mancini must be blamed for not preparing his side well enough for a tactic which is used by Madrid and Ronaldo every game.

Vincent Kompany

I am not sure who was pretending to be Vincent Kompany yet I hope for City’s sake someone finds the real Kompany soon. He has made a few errors this season so far yet his performance for almost the whole game against Madrid was awful by his standards. 

His lack of support for Maicon in the first half was poor. The incident between him and Hart when neither took responsibility for a cross showed a lack of assertiveness and responsibility in a key area. He mistimed headers, missed interceptions and was all round disappointing. 

Perhaps the biggest factor was the decision to duck from Ronaldo’s shot. It looked like something you see a child do who is scared of the ball. This is not the leader who took City to the title last year. It was arguably the biggest game of his career, playing against Madrid, in the Bernabeau. Nerves are understandable for any player yet those world class ones take those nerves and put on a masterclass performance. Last night he showed he was overwhelmed. 

He is good for City when they are dominating the play and not up against it, perhaps no side last season put City under the pressure that Madrid did last night. He was tested fully last night, and failed. I am sure he will learn from last night, yet it was a lesson to fans that perhaps the label “world class” should not be banded around too early without that player being tested, again and again in “world class” situations.

Manchester City

One wonders if they have the desire and mentality to retain their title this season. Based on performances so far this season City are not playing their best, some players are not focused and with United looking more driven, City will need to up their game and standards if they wish to retain their title and achieve anything in Europe. A sign of a great team, great manager and great players is staying at the top when you are there. Ferguson has achieved this for decades. City should realise that one title does not mean greatness. 

Luke Modric

Luka Modric is the key for Madrid’s success. After watching him when he came on last night, seeing him on the ball on the edge of City’s area with composure and class and then seeing him defending and making a last ditch tackle in the area, showed how important Modric will be for Madrid this season. 

If they want to achieve that 10th European crown, Modric will be the key. Perhaps Ozil could replace Di Maria out wide, yet Jose will be smart to have his midfield trio being Khedira, Alonso and Modric in the future.

Higuain or Benzema?

I have wondered who is the best out of Higuain and Benzema. Previously I thought it was Higuian, however after last season and seeing him last night I believe Benezema is a more complete forward and is much more effective for Madrid. Although Higuian is a good goalscorer, if he does not score then he offers little else. Benzema is much better at holding up play and linking in others. Jose, will be smart to have Benzema as his starting No.9 in the Champions League this season.

Jose Mourinho

Mourinho knows what is required to be successful. He knows what to say, when to say it and what to do. His interviews expressing the lack of desire of the players, his demands of the players to do more and his decision to drop Ramos and Ozil all point at a man, who like Ferguson, is driven only for success and knows what decisions to make to be successful. He plays those that he believes in and who give him everything. His interview talking of being driven by success encompasses why in the past decade he has seemingly dominated European football. If Man City's owners are serious about achieving in Europe, Mourinho is certainly the man to achieve that.

Contender and pretender

Although many will say this is only one game, the truth is that the Champions League is a tournament in which you must start and be ready to compete from the first game. Both these sides expect to be in the tournament come February 2013 and thus they need to get results. Both would have learnt lessons about their sides, tactics and mentality after last night. 

It is clear that Madrid are much closer to challenging that City are. Mancini once again highlighted his lack of tactical ability and importantly decision making in terms of personnel and positons. Many will say I am being too harsh, yet there were too many issues not to be worried if you are a City fan after watching last night.

There was one side last night who was genuine contenders for the Champions League, the other was merely an expensive pretender. A bet on Madrid to win the Champions League would be a smart choice. As for City, I don’t believe Mancini will ever have the qualities necessary to conquer Europe and it may be another disappointing season for City in Europe.