Man City’s second bite at the Champions League cherry
For Manchester City, the comfort heading into the Champions League draw was that they couldn’t be handed a stiffer draw than they were handed the previous season.
September 10th, 2012
One by one though, as the teams were plucked from the pots, the realisation quickly sunk in that they would this year face an even sterner test. As second seeds they were certainly entitled to feel that they would have received an easier time, even allowing for being drawn with Real Madrid – many peoples’ tips to lift the trophy next May.
However, next out were Ajax of Amsterdam and then the final blow, German Champions Borussia Dortmund who, like City, enter this year on the back of a disappointing prior campaign. A measure of quite how tough Group D is? In this era of the Champions League where even third and fourth placed sides compete, it is a group that features the four domestic champions of the countries they represent. Little wonder that Jose Mourinho felt that – whichever two sides emerged from the group – they would be at an immediate disadvantage in the knockout stages given the expected intensity involved in progressing through.
Yet while the group certainly presents City with a challenge, this is not the same side that arrived as debutantes to Europe’s grand ball a year ago. Then, whilst not over-awed, a naivety permeated their approach at times – as if struggling to adapt to the nuances of the competition – and after the first two games had registered just a solitary point; a position they never managed to recover from. In 2012/13 they carry with them the additional belief and aura of being Champions and whilst that is so often enough the manner in which the title was won, should not be underestimated in terms of what it provided this term for the future.
Whilst City had players last season that possessed Champions League experience this was very much as individuals, not as a collective. A premature end last season it may have been, but brought vital experience nonetheless and the side, built quickly over the past few seasons, has had another year to develop. Mancini’s summer signings do not appear to provide an obvious Champions League advantage but they could provide the scope for Mancini to rest certain players ahead of the Champions League ties.
What could work in City’s favour this season is in the fixture list. As second seed, City start off with the trip to Madrid, but if they can come away with even a point from the Bernabeau then it is the second, third and fourth fixtures – home to Borussia Dortmund before the away and home back to back with Ajax – where City can set themselves up. The magical ten point mark can hopefully be all but achieved by this point and if City go into their final two fixtures (home to Real Madrid before a final day trip to Germany) with their fate in their own hands, they will be delighted.
Another factor that played out in last season’s competition which should be avoided is that it’s highly unlikely that any side will post a 100% losing record in the way that Villarreal did, and all four sides have the capability to take points from one another.
Certainly in comparison to the other groups (in particular the other English sides) City have drawn the short straw. The reaction from within the camp has been overwhelmingly positive however, and the reality is that a draw of this nature could well be more beneficial than a so-called easier group; focussing minds and sharpening desires as opposed to there being an expectation of a comfortable passage through.
By no means easy, but City will have learnt plenty from last years’ experience and it will likely be enough to see them progress through to the round of 16.