Ajax cleaned up in the Amsterdam ArenA after Manchester City produced a stinking performance that leaves their Champions League campaign in a proper mess.
In one of the most liberalized cities in Europe, where cannabis is smoked without a whiff of compunction, City seemed suitably ‘spaced out’.
Frank De Boer’s young side simply brushed aside the challenge of the English champions and flushed City’s hopes of qualifying for the knockout stages down the pan.
Last season City amassed 10 points and were considered desperately unlucky not to qualify for the knockout stages. This season it’s now the maximum they can get – and only by three consecutive wins at home to Ajax and Real Madrid and away to Dortmund.
ile not impossible, it does seem improbable, based on their underwhelming efforts of Wednesday night when a 1-0 lead was meekly surrendered and transformed into a 3-1 embarrassment.
Can City win three CL fixtures on the bounce – something they’ve never previously achieved? City fans would be extremely well advised not to hold their breath or they could find themselves turning as blue as the moon in their beloved club’s ‘Blue Moon’ anthem.
It’s a harsh reality, but Roberto Mancini, the man who has transformed City’s fortunes and brought them the FA Cup and Premier League title in successive seasons, is under massive pressure to retain his job.
For all his domestic success with Inter Milan and City, Mancini has never taken a team beyond the last eight in the CL. Contrast that with Pep Guardiola and Jose Mourinho – both of whom could conceivably replace him – who are both twice Champions League winners.
A failure to go beyond the group stage, albeit a so-called Group of Death, could prove fatal to the Italian’s job prospects next summer.
Formations and tactics are a critical component in the modern game, but City’s players were guilty of failing to deliver on the fundamentals. City’s away support would be entitled to ask how the camaraderie and commitment on show at The Hawthorns had disappeared in Amsterdam?
It had all started so well. City resolute in defence as Ajax came at them with skilful passing movements but no end product. 20 minutes in with City settled, the Dutch support was silenced by a beautifully worked goal by Samir Nasri.
Micah Richards curved a through ball to Milner down the left flank. The England utility man squared the pass to Nasri who opened up his body to arch his shot in the bottom right corner.
Undeterred, Ajax continued to zip the ball around with zeal but City were surely just waiting to pick their moment and increase their lead?
As half time loomed City paid for their leaden footed approach. Ricardo Van Rhijn was allowed to cross unchallenged with neither Barry or Kompany closing him down and De Jong – Siem not Nigel – placed his low shot past Joe Hart.
Not a good time to concede, but at least Mancini could address it and set his team up for the second half.
With Danish playmaker-cum-attacker Christian Eriksen showing why he is so highly regarded by Europe’s elite clubs, Ajax continued to press.
The 57th minute lead, courtesy of a Niklas Moisander header, saw City’s defensive corps statuary as the flying Finn buried an easy header into the City net.
Still City failed to match the crisp passing and movement of their hosts. Possession was squandered frequently and cheaply and in truth it was no great surprise when Eriksen finished City off in the 68th minute – courtesy of a cruel deflection off Gael Clichy.
City were in panic mode but, missing David Silva’s creativity, they weren’t testing the Ajax backline. Dzeko could, and should have pulled one back, but he was twice denied by Ajax keeper Kenneth Vermeer.
By the closing stages Mancini had taken the unprecedented decision to deploy all his four strikers at the same time. Truth is, Aguero Tevez, Dzeko and Balotelli didn’t look as if they could’ve scored in Amsterdam’s famous Red Light District, let alone cross town at the ArenA.
Not a single player in City’s purpose-designed blue and grey CL away shirt had distinguished themselves in any way. It had been a bemusing display – the polar opposite of digging deep for the win at WBA just four days earlier. Credit to an Ajax team who played without inhibitions, but City could so easily have avoided this painful loss if they’d bothered to turn up.
City have enjoyed collective success in recent years. It’s only right they shoulder collective responsibility when they have to stomach the bitter, but relatively rare, taste of defeat.
That said the Italian’s Job just became a whole lot harder, but as the posters say ‘KEEP CALM – FORZA MANCINI’.