As debate rages on over the rights and wrongs of Manchester City’s desperately unlucky Champions League defeat in Munich, the influence of Manuel Pellegrini becomes ever more apparent.
The post match inquest has seen social media platforms and the mainstream ‘press’ comparing and contrasting the fortunes of key personnel in the City team, but there has been little or no focus on the ramifications of Pellegrini’s enforced absence from the touchline.
Joe Hart has been universally lauded for his heroic efforts, before he was cruelly beaten by Jerome Boateng’s deflected last minute shot. Joe had been the pivotal figure as the Blues went agonisingly close to snatching the point merited by a valiant defensive performance.
Yaya Toure has been the polar opposite, incurring the wrath of many City fans, exasperated by his inability, or apparent unwillingness, to put in the proverbial shift, as befits a truly world class player.
So much has been said and written about City’s talisman of last season, fuelled by the Ivorian’s summer of madness and sadness, losing the plot over birthday cakes and, tragically, his younger brother to cancer.
But it falls to an unlikely figure, Phillip Lahm, Bayern’s skipper, to lend insight as to why Munich finally triumphed.
Germany’s World Cup winning captain admitted that his team were ‘chasing shadows’ in the opening exchanges at the Allianz Arena, before Pep Guardiola instigated tactical changes.
With Pellegrini serving the second of his two-game UEFA touchline ban and banished to the stand, the City boss was denied access to his players and unable to counter Guardiola’s on-field alterations.
That’s not to denigrate the efforts of Ruben Cousillas and Brian Kidd, but there are reasons why Manuel is The Engineer and the pair are his assistants.
There have been preposterous rants in the media that City lack a manager with any type of pedigree in the Champions League. Such utterances show the ignorance of guttersnipes who just love to hate City.
It’s an ill-founded and malicious accusation.
Pellegrini over achieved during his time with unfancied Villarreal, taking them to both the semi finals and quarter finals of the CL.
More recently with Malaga, he was denied a second CL semi-final in 2013, when Borussia Dortmund scored two goals in added time – both offside – to cheat the Spanish underdogs.
This was the same Dortmund side who had totally outplayed City at the Etihad in the group stages, before a Mario Balotelli penalty salvaged a 1-1 draw after what many consider was Joe Hart’s finest ever goalkeeping display – better even than Wednesday night.
Arguably, with Pellegrini’s input, City might have made it over the line in Munich.
On the balance of play, the purists could argue that Bayern were worthy winners with 21 goal attempts compared to City’s seven, and Hart called upon to make a string of stunning saves, not least from a 35-yard howitzer of a shot from Boateng in the 87th minute.
Bayern made numerous bogus penalty claims, none more so than substitute and serial offender Arjen Robben, surely a gold medal prospect for the Dutch Olympic Diving Team in 2016.
Thomas Muller, as brilliant and technically gifted as he is, could have been trained by the Royal Shakespeare Company, such were his over theatrical offerings.
True, Fernandinho undeniably handled the ball in City’s penalty area in the second half, but it was as clear a case of ‘ball to hand’ as you will ever see.
The one penalty appeal of the night with any credence was that of David Silva when Bayern debutant centre back, Mehdi Benatia, clearly fouled City’s Spanish maestro.
Benatia was strongly linked with a move to City from Roma all summer long, before Pellegrini eventually landed his preferred target of Eliaquim Mangala.
Perversely the Moroccan defender made his mark in a match where City’s £32m centre back once again stayed on the bench.
Pre-match speculation suggested the ex-Porto defender would partner Vincent Kompany, but veteran Martin Demichelis won the vote.
The pair defended resolutely enough, but City’s weakness on the night came down the flanks with full backs Sagna and Clichy struggling with Bayern’s wing play.
Even at the death, substitute Sergio Aguero so nearly stabbed home an equaliser, but his attempt went the wrong side of Manuel Neuer’s post.
Clearly it wasn’t City at their best. The same should be said of Bayern. City were missing key players Zabaleta, Fernando and Jovetic. Munich were minus the quality of Ribery, Schweinsteiger and Martinez.
Having come so close to taking a point in what, on paper, appears the most difficult match in their qualification campaign, City should take heart from what lies ahead.
Roma destroyed CSKA 5-1 but, as tough as the remaining five fixtures will be, this is not the proverbial Group of Death.
City are very capable of harvesting 13, possibly 15, points and winning it outright. Any talk of only being left to battle it out for second spot with the Italians is puerile.
Pellegrini does however, need to extract more from his players if they are to pose any genuine threat in the knockout stages.
Only those wearing spectacles of a deepest sky blue hue would think City capable of beating the best of Europe’s best at present.
It would be all too easy for City supporters to be contaminated by an insidious media, hell-bent on undermining both Pellegrini as an individual, and City as a collective.
Lest we forget it was the same scenario last season when Liverpool won the title in mid-April and Manuel wasn’t up to the task – yeah right, that’s how it played out didn’t it?
Too many people are too quick to rush to judgement. It’ll be a different picture come December 11th when City go into the draw for the knockout Round of 16 as the winners of Group E.
By David Walker
www.readbutneverred.com @ReadButNeverRed @djwskyblu