As the smoke palls lift on the Bayern blitzkrieg – delivered with frightening ferocity and infinite finesse in equal measure – a battle bruised and Champions League chastened Manchester City need to re-group and heed the lessons of their Munich mauling.
It’s been a while since City were rendered so impotent as was witnessed by a packed Etihad Stadium on Wednesday evening, but as has so often been said, a team can learn more about itself in defeat than in victory.
The freakish reversal at Villa Park aside, City had come into this clash with the Teutonic Titans, with high hopes of defeating the reigning European Champions.
After all, City were now under the stewardship of a CL savvy manager in Manuel Pellegrini, their ranks were swelled with a quartet of high-achieving summer signings, they held home advantage and were buoyed by a stoical performance, albeit in slender defeat, when a patchwork City had taken a Bayern side boasting nine of their CL winning team, to the wire in the Allianz Arena’s pre-season Audi Cup Final.
They’d taken the Bavarian aristocrats down 2-0 when they last clashed in the group stage of the CL in 2011, so why not? Deutschland uber alles no more!
How wrong could you be? The 1-3 scoreline bears not a hint of the total superiority and dominance of the Munchen Machine who masticated on the Manchester wannabees before spitting them out with ruthless disdain.
This was a football master class delivered with precision, poise and purpose. If we switch from the educational metaphor into the surgical field, City were sliced and diced – not quite death by a thousand cuts – but definitely paralysis by 690 passes.
The first incisions were sharp and excruciatingly painful, they drew blood causing tenderness leaving the victim with inflamed wounds, raw, throbbing gaping tears to the flesh, agonizing and harrowing.
As the assault continued the pain, somewhat perversely, dissipated, giving way to a surreal numbness and then a conscious realisation that all was lost, the hurt succumbing to a reluctant admiration for the assailant.
A clearly shell-shocked Manuel Pellegrini, in the aftermath of a stunning defeat, said his team, with a face transfer value of £193m, had been ‘…really bad…’
Not an overly sophisticated or technical analysis – it didn’t need to be. Even the most visually impaired, deaf and dumbstruck individual would have sensed the utter futility of offering any positive scraps from the remnants of the evening.
If City were a tradesman it was as if they’d turned up for work minus their toolbox, worse still, they even forgotten their packed lunch and flask of tea.
The only perforations on show were the gaping holes that riddled the team’s performance from front to back and back to front, from Hart to Aguero and everyone in between.
To play football you obviously need a team – preferably a good calibre team – and, to all intent and purposes, Manchester has just that. The Sky Blues have players who are the envy of the overwhelming majority of clubs sides throughout the world.
However you also require another vital component …a ball.
Bayern had no requirement of a single player in blue but an abundance of the spherical object that City yearned for and chased after all night long.
As inquests go, it isn’t so much about the shortcomings of City, rather the celebration of Bayern’s breathtaking craftsmanship when in possession of the ball, but equally as important, what they did on the rare occasions they weren’t.
With the peerless Pep Guardiola at the helm, Bayern have adopted the work ethic of Guardiola’s previous employer, Barcelona, in closing down opponents, harrying them into mistakes, minimising the time they have with the ball and the ability to inflict any damage.
Munich’s speed of thought and deed, fitness levels and unerring ability to find space was mind blowing.
As a master tactician Guardiola brings a fabulous fluidity to his teams, fast moving, players constantly interchanging positions totally non conventional.
Pellegrini is no slouch in the strategy department but his record of 1 draw and nine defeats against Pep says it all, and yet Guardiola is fulsome in his praise and admiration of the Chilean. This needs to be born in mind in the aftermath of City’s capitulation – Pellegrini IS A CLASS ACT – so woe betide those demanding any managerial change.
The simple truth is Bayern are the best club team in the world – possibly THE best team in the world, capable of beating the likes of Spain, Brazil and Germany if such a notion could ever be a reality.
In terms of football pedigree, City are not in Bayern’s league either past or present but let’s not write off the future. Of course there’s a distance to go but who’s to say that, given time, City won’t take their place at European football’s top table?
City’s supporters accorded generous recognition to two of their team’s principal tormentors when substituted, with Bastian Schweinsteiger and Arjen Robben warmly applauded. Not so with Franck Ribery, scorer of Bayern’s first goal with a 25 yard strike that Hart should have saved.
The European Footballer of the Year was booed off after his provocative goal celebrations towards the home fans.
City were light at the back when ‘mullered’ by Thomas Muller for Bayern’s second goal on 56 minutes. The cultured German rounded Hart after a long ball from Dante found City’s defence ‘out to lunch’ with Clichy clueless.
Fernandinho was dispossessed in midfield four minutes later as Robben raced forward. The flying Dutchman turned Nastasic inside out, before crashing the ball past Hart at the England goalkeeper’s near post.
It was a rout with the potential to become a total humiliation.
Substitutes David Silva and Alvaro Negredo combined to bring a falsification of respectability to the score when the Beast of Sevilla executed superbly following an exquisite pass from the silky Silva.
With four minutes of normal time remaining Yaya Toure broke through the Munich defence only to be unceremoniously hauled down by ex-City defender Jerome Boateng. The German centre back saw red but the chance for what would surely have been a second goal for the beleaguered Blues had gone.
Silva’s free kick beat Manuel Neuer – probably the best keeper in the world – but alas, not the crossbar.
Negredo’s looping header also had Neuer beaten but it went a fraction wide. It was inconceivable that City could have stolen a point at 3-3 but it could have happened. It would have been a travesty nonetheless.
In terms of the UCL Group D table, City now sit second ahead of CSKA Moscow on goal difference. The Muscovites managed a laboured and somewhat fortuitous 3-2 win over Plzen, so City can muster maximum points from their two fixtures with the Russians or, at the very least, four.
Two wins over CSKA would see City as good as qualified by Bonfire night on November 5th. Surely they will beat Plzen at home and render the return match with Munich academic – thank God.
For Pellegrini it will signal tangible progress in the CL and, as Guardiola has said, City could become very tough opponents in the knockout stages.
Perhaps more importantly it would then give City three months to focus fully on the rigours of the Premier League. The PL looks wide open at the moment but, as Pellegrini gets to grips with City’s away form and adopts a more settled back line, so results should improve.
City can win the PL this season – no doubt. With the likes of Bayern Munich and perhaps two or three others barring City’s road to Lisbon for the CL final, the PL has to be Pellegrini’s priority.
Progression in the CL is a must and will happen, but any ambitions of winning the competition this season are purely for the delusional.
Domestically it doesn’t help that it’s Everton – City’s nemesis of the modern era – next up at the Etihad. Selection wise, does Pellegrini persist with Joe Hart, who had a horrible night on Wednesday, and Matija Nastasic, who has been woefully short of the form he showed in his debut season?
All will be revealed in due course but if Everton’s unhealthy hex on City were to continue it would give the Pellegrini doubters and detractors with more ammunition.
Now is a time for cool heads and an appreciation that City will play opponents of Bayern’s quality once in a blue moon.
By David Walker