The phone call from the Etihad to the La Roselada Stadium would go something like this, albeit in Spanish, not English:
“Hi Javi, it’s Manuel here, I need a favour. I know you’ve only been there for five minutes and I was there for nearly three years, but tell me…how the hell do you beat Barcelona, let me in on the secret, I haven’t a clue!”
“Ah, Manuel, ola. It’s never easy, especially at the Nou Camp, but one thing’s for sure, you’ll never do it with a 4-4-2 formation. I hear some idiot in England tries to do it time and time and time again and never learns their lesson – such foolishness. Manuel? Manuel? Ola Manuel…are you still there?”
And there endeth the lesson before it even began when Senor Pellegrini – the Manchester City manager and former boss of Malaga – rang seeking guidance from Senor Garcia, the man who presided over present day Malaga’s 1-0 La Liga away win in the Catalan capital last weekend.
As a hitherto staunch supporter of the man who delivered City’s most successful ever season in 2013/14, it genuinely pains me to write that his blind faith, in a fundamentally flawed formation, will almost certainly be his undoing.
Once is unfortunate, twice is careless and three times is criminal…so Manuel Pellegrini and his team are deemed guilty when it comes to capitulating to the Catalonians 0-2, 1-2 and 1-2 in their trio of Champions League clashes, over the past 12 months.
To put it mildly – very mildly – the massed ranks of Manchester City supporters are peeved and perplexed at Pellegrini’s intransigence, stubbornness and inability, to see what needs to be done when it comes to competing in the Champions League
It’s something of a paradox when you consider the cultured and likeable Chilean has taken teams to the semi final and twice to the quarter final stages of the competition – clubs with far less resources than Manchester City.
First with Villarreal and then with Malaga, Pellegrini massively over-achieved. Now, sadly, he is on the verge of another under-achieving Manchester City campaign in Europe’s top club competition.
UEFA and the continent’s cartel of the likes of Real Madrid, Barcelona, Bayern Munich, not to mention England’s very own Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal, have all sought to make City as welcome as a fart in a space suit at Europe’s top table.
Of course City, like any other club, wouldn’t expect any on-field favours from their rivals, but Michel Platini and his cohorts have done all in their power to make life difficult for the ‘interlopers’ from Manchester.
City have had a man sent off in each of the three ‘Last 16’ fixtures with Barcelona. Demichelis had to go after taking Lionel Messi down in the home leg last season. It wasn’t, however a penalty.
Zabaleta should never have seen red in the return fixture in the Nou Camp. French referee Stephan Lannoy stank the place out after Zaba protested for a stonewall City penalty.
In the latest instalment of the trilogy, German official Dr Felix Brych was hoodwinked by the deceitful Dani Alves, whose Oscar-deserving performance, dispatched Gael Clichy to the dressing room with 20 minutes left to play.
However, it doesn’t do to be paranoid on this occasion.
City were deservedly beaten by a superior Barcelona, but when will Lady Luck turn her grimace into a smile for City, now in their fifth year of Champions League competition – it would be so wrong to say contention.
One glance at the team sheet – the obvious 4-4-2 set-up – and the inclusion of Fernando had the Etihad faithful praying that Manuel did, in some perverse way, know best.
Had The Engineer created something in his workshop, away from the public glare and media scrutiny, something that would blow minds and send Barcelona staggering back to Spain beaten and bloodied?
It’s far from laudable to seek scapegoats in times of adversity, far better to stick with the virtues of both winning and losing as a collective.
Fernando, to put it even more mildly than the criticism of Pellegrini, evoked fury and frustration among the home support. To many, he brings absolutely nothing, zilch, nada to the party.
At £12m is he the worst pound for pound (sterling, not imperial weights) player in City’s modern day history? Presumably scouted and coveted by Txiki Begiristain and Pellegrini, Fernando was supposed to be an upgrade on Javi Garcia.
Garcia was supposed to be an upgrade on Nigel De Jong, so if we continue on this evolutionary theory, who the hell will City buy next in this so-called improvement in the corps of defensive midfielders?
Is there a one-legged midfield destroyer playing in the lower reaches of Portuguese football? If so, one can be assurred Txiki already has him on the radar for this summer’s transfer market.
Stating the obvious, only Sergio Aguero and Joe Hart emerge with any credit from this crushingly disappointing Champions League reality check.
Aguero, starved of decent service for long periods of the game, gobbled up the 69th minute opportunity to make it 2-1, courtesy of a deft back-heeled assist from David Silva.
Hart – who despite making vital stops from Suarez, was also beaten twice by the despicable El Rodento – proved a potential saviour in the dying seconds of added time.
Zabaleta bundled fellow countryman Messi over for an undeniable penalty, seemingly signing City’s death warrant and a 3-1 Barca win.
Lionel,the little Argentine genius, stepped up to repeat his successful penalty conversion in last year’s first leg. He put the ball to Joe’s left –as he has done with the previous eight penalties he has missed – with the same result.
With the goal gaping at his mercy, Messi’s diving header went wide, Hart jumped for joy and the Etihad – at least those who had stayed until the bitter end – erupted in celebration.
It had been the proverbial game of two halves. Suarez’s double strike wasn’t a fair reflection of a first 45 minutes where City could easily have been three or four down.
Captain Kompany’s continuing calamities are of grave concern as he and City’s defence were exposed by the directness and speed of Barca’s incisive forward play. Just what is going on with the skipper who’s always at sea nowadays?
The pre-match talk from Kompany and Nasri about not fearing Barcelona, along with the assertion this was a ‘different’ and much improved City from last year, proved laughable.
Pellegrini’s pledge to be aggressive and attack the Spaniards was a pearler from Manuel’s Ministry of Misinformation.
It only came to life in the second half, when City displayed the conviction and work rate that stems from having virtually nothing to lose.
This tie could and should have been over by now. The fact it isn’t owes more to good fortune than good judgement.
Yaya Toure will now get his opportunity to exert his influence, inflict damage on his former employers and guide City to success, in their far too often laboured and painful European odyssey. Free from his three-match suspension, can City’s Ivorian talisman help make the difference in three weeks time?
Wednesday 18th March offers Manuel Pellegrini what could be his final chance of Champions League redemption with Manchester City.
Woe betide him if the numbers 4-4-2 figure prominently in his planning. It could be the pre-cursor to another double digit featuring one of his initials this May – P45.
#SadlyNo LongerTrustedIn EuropeMP
By David Walker
www.readbutneverred.com @ReadButNeverRed @djwskyblu