Be the best team in England they said, qualify for the Champions League they said, explore Europe and broaden your horizons they said…they didn’t say it would be back to Bayern Munich for the third time in four seasons.
Nonetheless, it would be wrong to say the thrill of a trip to the magnificent spectacle of the Allianz Arena has worn thin. It’s more a barometer of how far City have progressed that there is more than a hint of deja vu.
The first visit and the furore around TevezGate – or more appropriately TevezBench – is etched indelibly into the City fans’ psyche from September 27th 2011, as Roberto Mancini’s men were unlucky to lose 2-0 to their Bavarian hosts.
Stonewall penalty shouts for Micah Richards and David Silva were ignored before Bayern scored and Carlito went on to grab the headlines for all the wrong reasons.
With senses dulled – partly by the Oktoberfest and the occasional stein of the local brew – City supporters were blissfully unaware of the antics of the stroppy Argentine striker, as he refused to warm up before being due to enter the fray.
It seems a long time ago.
Yes, it was a disappointing result, but the novelty and the experience of competing at Europe’s top table more than made up for it.
Three calendar years on it’s different, very different.
We’ve been back once already and, beer or no beer, the 3,414 City fans who witnessed that magnificent 3-2 come-from-behind victory last December, will never forget the unbridled joy and exhilaration of silencing 65,000 rather expectant and arrogant Germans.
It would have been just that little more joyous if someone in the City entourage had informed our trusted, but momentarily befuddled, MP, that one more goal would have made a world of difference, making City Group D winners and setting up an easier passage in the knockout stages.
City’s relatively poor showing in their first three Champions League campaigns makes it easy to overlook their head-to-head record with Bayern which reads, won 2 lost 2, goals scored 6, goals conceded 7.
Like virtually every visiting team, City go to Munich tonight as underdogs, but they’ll be facing a Bayern side missing a host of household names.
Ribery, Robben, Schweinsteiger, Martinez, Thiago, Badstuber and Rafinho are all out, and ex-City centre back Van Buyten retired after the World Cup.
City will still face a stern test as Pep Guardiola will still be fielding the likes of Neuer, Muller, Lahm, Boateng, Gotze and Lewandowski. You only have to look how Arsenal fared against Borussia Dortmund’s reserves last night to know that there can be no room for complacency.
The 3-2 win was Manuel Pellegrini’s one and only success over Guardiola, having previously had an 8-0 losing record at the hands of the ex-Barcelona coach.
He’d so dearly like to make it two and get City’s quest for European football’s ultimate prize off to a flyer.
The Chilean will be without the inspirational and indefatigable Pablo Zabaleta who is suspended after his preposterous sending off at the Nou Camp in March.
Pellegrini himself will be serving the second of a two-game touchline ban, following his comments on referee Jonas Eriksson, the Swedish turnip, who facilitated Barcelona’s 2-0 win at the Etihad, in the first leg of the Round of 16.
Also missing will be Fernando – a very big loss – who was bought for £12m, not least to make a difference on these big occasions.
Stevan Jovetic remains a major doubt, but expect a high profile debut for City’s new £32m signing Eliaquim Mangala.
The much vaunted 23-year old defender, should make his debut alongside Vincent Kompany, as Pellegrini opts for the Frenchman’s speed and athleticism over the now dependable, ever popular, but less sprightly Martin Demichelis.
Bacary Sagna will replace Zaba and Aleksander Kolarov could get the nod over Gael Clichy, as Pellegrini optimises his options after the Arsenal game and with Chelsea on the domestic horizon.
City are renowned for their attacking prowess, but clean sheets are everything in European competition, and a pragmatic Pellegrini wouldn’t be slow to say ‘nein’ to a nil-nil stalemate.
With Bayern’s treatment room crammed to its teutonic rafters, he may feel there’s never been a better time to attack, with an Aguero led Blitzkreig supported by Silva and the lightning fast, holy smokin’ Jesus Navas.
Yaya Toure’s return could be pivotal and a marauding Ivorian would be the last thing a weakened Munich would want to see.
Irony of ironies, when City won 3-2 on that glorious Tuesday last December, Pellegrini fielded what many observers thought was a weakened side, as they had to play Premier League leading Arsenal four days later.
City take on Mourinho’s present table toppers this Sunday, knowing that a loss would leave them trailing Chelsea by eight points – not a healthy scenario, even at such an early stage of the season.
If it’s a case of priorities, it’s safe to say the Manchester City powers-that-be covet the Champions League and the global exposure and recognition that accompanies it, above all else.
The majority of fans would more than likely disagree and cite ongoing domestic domination as their preferred option.
Pellegrini is on record as once again, saying City want to win every competition they enter.
Fair enough and encouraging to hear – but a narrow loss in Germany could be more easily rectified than a home defeat against Maureen’s men.
Broadening your horizons is one thing, but not if it means a lack of focus back home.
Let’s hope these Bavarian encounters are as easy as 1,2,3.
By David Walker
Dedicated to my dear friend David Kelly, who drove us to Munich and back in September 2011, on a whirlwind 56-hour road trip…and only had a single pint. Cheers Guvnor – great days & happy memories. CTWD
www.readbutneverred.com @ReadButNeverRed @djwskyblu