By Matthew Biggin [email protected] @TLE_Sport
Liverpool have seemed to be the much talked about ‘club in crisis’ in recent months, but there is certainly a feeling that the winters of discontent are beginning to blow around the corridors of The Etihad, as Manchester City seem to be struggling to recapture the form that won them their second Premier League crown. The season is just over a quarter through and City already lie in 3rd place, 8 points behind leaders and favourites Chelsea.
And it’s not just domestically; City have historically flopped in European competition and last week’s Champions League home defeat to CSKA Moscow was no different. The defeat leaves them bottom of their group by 2 points, with 2 games to play. With one of those ties against Pep Guardiola’s rampant Bayern Munich surely qualification from the group stages this season is once again beyond them?
In a recent interview, rock icon and lifelong City fan, Noel Gallagher spoke of an apathetic attitude on the Etihad terraces towards the Champions League. The former Oasis guitarist said he, and most City fans like him, would rather win the Premier League than the Champions League.
This could be due to the years spent in the doldrums of the lower tiers of English football, so much so that Europe became (and in a sense still is) a novelty for this club.
It could well also be down to the fact that winning the league is surely the ultimate prize, as Brian Clough once noted ‘…I would gladly go out of the European Cup, the League Cup, the FA Cup (which we’re not even in yet), I would gladly go out of all of them tomorrow, if you could guarantee me winning the Football League (then equivalent of the Premier League)’ And Old Big ‘Ead should know, for he was one of the few managers in the game to win both.
One could argue that Pellegrini, much like his Liverpool counterpart Brendan Rodgers, is suffering the backlash of a successful season in the previous campaign, where added pressure and expectations weigh heavy on the shoulders of a few.
Injuries could also be held accountable, Yaya Toure, Sergio Aguero and David Silva have all battled back from the medical room this season and City do not look the same side if they are missing any of those three. But for a team of expensively assembled superstars that excuse is surely moot?
Red cards for Fernandinho and Toure in last Wednesday nights dismal Champions League defeat to CSKA Moscow point to deeper lying problems within the squad. What should be most concerning for Pellegrini is that the performance, quite apart from the red cards, was the worst City have given since the Chilean took charge at the start of last season.
City’s pitiful European form, whilst perhaps not a cause for concern for their fans will surely be a concern for the owners. If Manchester City are to become the global brand their owners desire they are going to have to perform against Europe’s elite clubs. Sure, the Champions League may play second fiddle to domestic glory for the fans, but it is seen as Europe’s premier competition and is paramount to attracting players of the calibre to ensure an enduring dynasty and not a flash in the pan.
For this reason the competition cannot be overlooked. City can get away with a couple of abject seasons in the Champions League, but if they are to establish themselves as a European force they will need a good run in the competition sooner rather than later.
Domestically the holders will recover in time, but by then it may well be a case of damage limitation. With City dropping yet more points at QPR on Saturday it has left Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea in pole position to take the crown; this will surely see the Premier League title return to London for the first time since the 2009-10 season. City have been stripped of their title before, only to battle back stronger the next season and reclaim the crown, which bodes well for them if they do relinquish the trophy this season.
Europe, however, remains their biggest enigma. It is worth noting that it took the great Alex Ferguson 8 years to taste European glory with arch rivals Manchester United. But realistically that is no longer the era of the game we find ourselves in. Modern managers are judged on results with terrifying immediacy and fans (as well as clubs) have expectations. Those expectations grow exponentially, and as such football is no longer a sport of longevity.
You get the sense that if Pellegrini is going to remain at the Etihad for a significant period of time then he will need some degree of European success, alongside continued domestic success.
For more from Matthew, visit www.matthewbiggin.com