As feared or expected – depending on your perspective – Manchester City exited the Champions League having failed to win any of their first five games in Group D.
But before the snipers and the cynics seek to make further mischief for Roberto Mancini and his team, they would do well to remember the image of an animated Jose Mourinho, willing the final whistle to be blown as City laid siege to Real Madrid’s goal in ‘Fergie’ time.
The swaggering Spanish champions had looked in total control after City gifted them the lead in the 10th minute, when yet another example of dozy defending allowed Karim Benzema to stroll away from Maicon and shoot past Joe Hart.
Pre-match Mancini had set his defensive unit would have their antenna primed and Vincent Kompany & Co would be on the same wavelength – somebody forgot to tell the veteran Brazilian full back to tune in!
A De Maria cross from the right flank eluded the entire City backline and Maicon stood transfixed as the French sharpshooter executed the easiest of chances.
The hated but nonetheless, secretly admired, Ronaldo was indulging in his despicable repertoire of embarrassing defenders with his fancy footwork and more step-overs than a rambler in a field full of cowpats.
And while on the topic, City fans had delighted in taunting ‘Pretty Boy’ with a chorus of ‘You’re just a sh*t Lionel Messi’. He did, nonetheless spread terror through the Sky Blue’s defence with Kompany, Zabaleta and Maicon bemused by his speed of foot.
Mancini’s ambitious gameplan of a back three comprising the skipper, Nastasic and Zabaleta plus Maicon and Kolarov as wing backs further upfield, was looking flawed as Madrid sliced through on numerous occasions.
The profligate Khedira was thwarted by Hart’s sharpness off his line and the burgeoning Nastasic hooked Ronaldo’s goalbound effort to safety after he had rounded the City keeper.
Rather like the opening fixture at the Bernabeu, City could have been down by three or four at the break. The fact is they weren’t and this is a Manchester City nowadays that ‘fights ‘till the end…’
The second half saw them do just that. Javi Garcia was introduced for Aleksander Kolarov, giving the irrepressible Yaya Toure a license to advance. With greater intensity, both on and off the ball, City were back in the mix and Madrid were backtracking.
The home side’s momentum was halted on more than one occasion by the Italian referee Gianluca Rocchi whose performance lived up to his surname. He was decidedly dodgy and his officious offerings served to demonstrate he had more cards than Clintons in the run up to Christmas.
Silva was now the architect of City’s escape plans with Aguero striving to execute the blueprint. The Spaniard threaded an exquisite pass into Sergio’s stride pattern but the Argentine squandered the chance, overrunning the ball into the oncoming Iker Casillas.
Tevez came on for Nasri as City went for broke. Industrious and bold, City gained their reward when Aguero sprinted into the 18-yard box and the cynical Arbeloa clipped his ankle – penalty to City and the gangly Spanish defender shown red.
Who needs Balotelli when you have Aguero as the principal penalty taker? Admittedly, not as theatrical but equally clinical, Sergio stroked the ball past the legendary Spanish keeper who was well and truly ‘tango-ed’ in his vibrant orange strip.
The second period belonged to City who were thoroughly deserving of the draw. The home side’s dominance was evidenced by the now petulant pretty boy in the Madrid number 7 shirt who, on more than one occasion had a little temper tantrum – very amusing.
City tried to exploit their one-man advantage and Tevez was a big-toe shy of connecting with Silva’s beautifully lobbed pass and beating the onrushing Casillas. Alas it was not to be.
The harsh truth is City have come up against teams who – at this stage – are technically superior but also more Champions League savvy. Unlike the ‘orrible Russian Oligarch of the West End, the chic Abu Dhabi Sheikh is not one for knee jerk reactions.
Judging by the deafening chorus of ‘Mancini…he comes from Italy to manage Man City…’ the fans concur. The Etihad’s contempt for the arrogant, surly and hateful Mourinho was self evident.
City have a way to go in Europe but it’s Forza Mancini if they can retain their Premier League crown in 2013 and maybe, just maybe, make it a double and throw in the FA Cup – that’d be just the tonic.