Manchester City 1 Bayern Munich 3: Some Thoughts

Date: 3rd October 2013 at 4:11 pm
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City’s EDS team got the day off to a superb start with a 6-0 shellacking of their Bayern Munich counterparts – could the senior side complete the job?

No, no they couldn’t.

Even before the game began, the formation and team selection raised eyebrows once more. Micah Richards was chosen ahead of Pablo Zabaleta, presumably for his pace and power that would hopefully pin back their left-sided attacking players and help with the threat of Ribery. But along with Clichy, Pellegrini picked two full backs returning from injury, against the best side in Europe. It was a strange decision, and in the end it didn’t work.
As for picking Dzeko over Negredo, I’ve given up trying to work that one out, not that Dzeko was THAT bad, or the cause of all of City’s ills.

To put it bluntly – City were outclassed in every department by the best club side in the world, a settled team at the peak of its powers. A new manager has not affected this team, which is not surprising as that manager is Pep Guardiola. With summer signing Thiago injured, it was very similar to the Bayern of last season that destroyed everything in front of it, including the oft-quoted Barcelona masterclass. Only Javi Martinez was injured from the old guard and that doesn’t really matter when you have Lahm to protect the back four.

Bayern pretty much did to City what City did to United the other week. They pressed hard and harried, the City players were shellshocked and were unable to find the time to get a passing rhythm going. The most impressive things about Bayern was the speed of the passing, their energy levels and the movement. But City’s heads seem to drop by their goals coming at key times, bright starts on both halves undone by a single moment. Joe Hart couldn’t even find space to pass out from goal – resulting in endless punts almost inevitably leading to Bayern possession. Bayern however seemed to get into dangerous positions almost at will.
But then Bayern are basically just a better side. Better than City, better than Barcelona, better than everyone. Something to aspire to.

This was a match though that raised many questions – one stood out more then others.
The main one was the sobering acknowledgement that Manuel Pellegrini got the formation and set up of the team completely wrong. It was clear from the start that City were being overrun in midfield. Michah Richards commented afterwards that it felt like they had an extra man, and that’s because they did, in the middle of the pitch, out wide, almost everywhere. By the time Pellegrini reacted it was too late – to not make any substitutions at half-time was baffling.

I have said repeatedly – a new manager has the right to be given time – but last’s night line-up was nothing to do with settling in, or getting to know new players. Managers often get things wrong tactically, even the best. The disappointing thing was Pellegrini’s failure to react to what was in front of him. He should surely have seen from the start the need to stifle Bayern in midfield, and thus put an extra man in there. When Nasri was dragged inside, he helped little and left a gaping hole out wide. 4-4-2 could only work if the strikers dropped back to assist the midfield, which they didn’t.

Maybe Pellegrini thought that City weren’t doing that bad at the break – for all Bayern’s domination of the ball in the first half, Joe Hart had little to do. But at times it felt like Bayern were toying with city.  On the flip-side, for all the Bayern domination, all three goals were essentially down to individual errors. But it’s hard to say the players were terrible, even though that’s how it looked to the naked eye, when the set-up left them chasing shadows.

When City did add strength and numbers to the midfield, the response was immediate, with a goal, a red card for Bayern, the crossbar rattled, and a free header going wide. But then Bayern may have been easing off, and had taken off Ribery, Robben and Schweinsteiger.  Or maybe they tired after pressing for so long. It is telling that David Silva created more chances than any other City player (2) and got an assist despite only being on the pitch for 20 minutes.

The stats tell the story though. Bayern made 597 passes, with an 88% accuracy. City made 254, with an accuracy of 77%. Bayern had 59% possession, though it felt like more. Bastian Schweinsteiger made 69 passes, with 95% accuracy, 3 key passes and had a 100% tackle success. Toni Kroos completed 97% of his passes. Yaya Toure, who averages 41 passes in the Premier League, made just 12 in the first half.

You know the opposition are good if the City fans applaud them and individual players off the pitch.

So to Joe Hart (as usual). There is no denying he was poor (though made good saves in the second half) – and such flaky goalkeeping so early on deflated the team and left them up against it against a team that do not tend to throw away leads. He was also partly to blame for the third, and despite me defending him in the past, as not all the criticism had been fair, you get the feeling that he could be one bad performance away from being dropped.
Doing so though would be a huge decision to make for Pellegrini, and may be one he will want to avoid. It may help him, it may make matters worse for his fragile confidence, and is the back-up any better? It should be pointed out also that once more he wasn’t helped by his team mates.

And predictably the Pellegrini backlash is back in full force – and with it the tiresome Mancini pining and once more last season is whitewashed from history. I’ve heard it said numerous times that Mancini “wouldn’t have let that happen” even though he did against Borussia Dortmund (the only difference being a goalie in form), and oversaw other appalling European displays. He might have reacted to the midfield issue last night, but history doesn’t suggest we’d be doing any better in the group with him still at the helm. Still, Pellegrini’s head is already on the chopping block for some, but I’ll wait a couple of months before judging him properly.

And in the same way that Pellegrini has now been labelled a “dinosaur” for his 4-4-2 system, the players are now all rubbish. Nastastic has been downgraded to “little better than Savic” by the same people hailing him as a revelation last season, Yaya is lazy, Fernadinho worse than Gareth Barry and Nigel De Jong, Clichy a waste of space.

Strange that the archaic 4-4-2 was the formation used by Bayern Munich when they thrashed Barcelona 4-0 last season.

But despite the downbeat mood today, this was never the crucial match of the campaign. Yes, a victory woukd have made qualification a near-certainty, but it was always unlikely as Bayern rarely lose. No, the 2 matches against cska will decide who qualifies with Bayern, and city must be looking to get at least 4 points. A draw in Moscow wound be no disaster, if the job csn be finished off in the return match – what may go in City’s favour is that once more the final match will be a dead – rubber for Bayern. Ten points should be enough this time around if four of the points come off City’s competitor for that second qualifying place.

A note on the atmosphere – conceding early does doesn’t help of course, but against the champions of Europe it was flat one more. I’m not vocal so am not one to criticise others, but it does seem that the Champions league is still falling to captivate the fans – maybe a modicum of success in the competition will change that. But let’s stop talk of trying to match what the Bayern fans do, or the Porto fans or the Napoli fans – we’re (mostly) English, we don’t do things like that. The odd swear word and kicking the seat in front of me in frustration is the limit of my match-day exertion.

More moronic reporting from The Mirror’s Martin Lipton, suggesting Mancini was ditched for similar Euro failures. Except that he wasn’t Martin, the fact he had fallen out with everyone, which was very widely publicised at the time, may have had more to do with it.

It should be noted City are still 2nd in the group.

So the Everton match becomes vital now. A response is needed in the competition City fans want more than any, against a bogey team unbeaten this season. They’ve also got a new club crest, so they’re bound to be on a high. Now we’ll see what they are made of.

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