By Rich Laverty.
After a familiar exit from Europe against Barcelona and trailing six points behind Chelsea in the league, can Manchester City get a grip before it’s too late?
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Premier League champions Manchester City went crashing out of the Champions League at the round of 16 stage for the second consecutive season; both times falling to European stalwarts FC Barcelona.
Last season, City simply looked overawed by their opposition at the Etihad but gave them a fair match at the Nou Camp. This season many others and I felt the champions had a fair chance at causing an upset against the Catalan side but once again they looked like rabbits caught in the headlights. They’d beaten Bayern at home, who are arguably one of the few sides in Europe currently better than Luis Enrique’s men, but couldn’t repeat the feat in March.
The season before, Roberto Mancini’s men finished bottom of their group without winning a single game and the year before that, their first season in the competition, they dropped into the Europa League. The alarming news before the return fixture in Spain that the starting eleven was almost identical to the one that started their first ever Champions League match against Napoli back in 2011 really hit the point home that City, despite their billions, haven’t accepted themselves as a top European club.
Only England duo Joleon Lescott and Gareth Barry are no longer at the club out of the team that started against the Serie A side and in those four years, City’s owners have bankrolled hundreds of millions of pounds worth of signings without ever really improving the first team. Is there a sense of ‘job done’ already? City have won two of the last three Premier League’s but dismally failed to defend their first and this season is going the same way.
Mancini’s men appeared to lose focus in 2012 after the chaos that surrounded their title-winning moment against QPR. The fight seemed to disappear; some looked like they’d simply achieved what they came for and were no longer interested. But Mancini and the board must shed some of the blame as the transfer window post-title was one of the worst of any defending champions in recent history, matched only by David Moyes’s arrival at Old Trafford 12 months on.
Only Jack Rodwell arrived (and soon departed) before deadline day saw a flurry of fairly average arrivals. Scott Sinclair, Maicon, Matija Nastasic and Javi Garcia came in and have all since left the club, although somehow Sinclair is still on the books after just 13 league appearances in three years. To be fair, Nastasic had an excellent first season and given the club’s current defensive woes, it’s baffling on the surface that the talented young Serb has been allowed to depart.
Nigel De Jong left the club, a stellar midfield man who is linked with a move back to the Premier League with their local rivals and some may wish he was still there after watching some of Fernando’s performances this season. Twelve months on, and Mancini paid for such failure with his job and another top-class player in Carlos Tevez went with him. City paid £30million for Fernandinho, £15m for the solid but unspectacular, Jesus Navas, and £20m for Alvaro Negredo, who, in fairness, had a superb opening stint in Manchester but is now out on loan with no sign of return.
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Stevan Jovetic commanded an even bigger fee and is no longer part of City’s plans if leaving him out of their Champions League matches is anything to go by. Eliaquim Mangala is looking like another one who may fail to justify his fee, whilst it’s early days for £25m man Wilfried Bony. City are undoubtedly a top club; they have two Premier League titles to their name. But while Chelsea have signed Cesc Fabregas and Diego Costa, Arsenal bagged Alexis Sanchez and United procured Angel Di Maria, City have abandoned the type of signings which brought them so much success: proven world-class talents like Yaya Toure, Sergio Aguero and David Silva.
The Telegraph last week linked them with Jay Rodriguez, Ross Barkley and Raheem Sterling which makes it appear that City are looking towards young, English talent. Paul Pogba was also linked and that is the kind of signing City need. They need to make a statement, they need to desperately improve an ageing and stagnating first eleven because Chelsea are pulling away and the rest are closing in fast.
City’s fate may be dependent on the result against their ‘noisy neighbours’ when they meet at Old Trafford in a couple of weeks. Anything but a win will add to the already existing doubts about the club. Second place could prove to be fatal for Manuel Pellegrini as it is; anything else and it’s certainly adios to the South American.
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