Manuel Pellegrini could yet scale new Champions League peaks in Italy, just four days after Manchester City left their supporters feeling as flat as a mountaineering holiday in Holland.
Already qualified for the knockout stages, a win in Turin would guarantee City top slot in Group D, but any repeat of Saturday night’s lily-livered lethargy against Liverpool would see City hard pressed to beat Fray Bentos never mind Juventus.
Abject, inept, gutless and witless, City ticked just about every box in the negativity stakes, with an appalling performance in the 1-4 defeat to the Scousers.
City’s Chilean boss was a contradiction in terms in the aftermath of the humiliation, describing his mood as ‘more than angry’, his team ‘a complete disaster’, but insisting he would choose the same starting XI again, given similar circumstances.
Refusing to elaborate or seek to justify his non-selection of the outstanding Nicolas Otamendi or in-form Fernandinho, Pellegrini had one thing just about right when he blamed City’s shameful showing as a ‘collective’ failure.
Even then, he wasn’t entirely correct, as Sergio Aguero scored a superb goal on his prematurely enforced comeback from injury, whereas Joe Hart had little chance with the four goals and was the sole reason the Scousers didn’t score six.
Substitutes Fernandinho and Fabian Delph added some bite and purpose in the second half, but the rest of the team may as well not have been there in the worst Premier League reversal inflicted on City at the Etihad.
With Vincent Kompany, David Silva, Wilfried Bony, Samir Nasri, Pablo Zabaleta, Eliaquim Mangala and Kelechi Iheanacho either injured or ineligible, Pellegrini has some options, albeit limited, to rejuvenate the team against Juve.
City were lame and never at the races. They made Jurgen ‘Klipperty’ Klopp’s team look like thoroughbreds, rather than the carthorses which lost 3-1 at home to Crystal Palace before the international break.
In typical Klopp style, his team pressed relentlessly, denying City time and space, forcing errors and capitalising on a myriad of mistakes.
Outplayed, out thought but, worst of all, outfought – the manner of the crushing loss was utterly inexcusable.
Pellegrini has to shoulder some of the blame with his puzzling team selection.
With Kompany once again ruled out by injury (if it’s the recurring calf problem City weren’t saying) it was nonsensical to have Otamendi languishing on the bench.
Equally, the absence of Fernandinho a major influence in a hitherto successful campaign, left a gaping hole in a midfield, strangely devoid of energy and creativity.
If Manuel was seeking to keep both of the South American stars fresh for the midweek Italian Job, City paid a very heavy price for his indulgence and mismanagement.
Centre backs Eliaquim Mangala and Martin Demichelis regressed back to the wayward form displayed at the outset of their respective City careers, in a porous defence.
Still reeling from the appalling atrocities in Paris, Bacary Sagna admitted after the game that the terrorist attacks in his homeland had affected his focus and form.
One cannot but empathise with the Frenchman’s emotional turmoil, but with Zabaleta on the bench, perhaps Sagna shouldn’t have started. Hindsight is indeed, a wonderful thing.
Captain for the day Yaya Toure was taken off at half time after another anonymous display. It was the ninth occasion this season that the Ivorian has been pulled from play, more often than not for poor form and tactical reasons.
Since joining City in 2010 Yaya had become almost immune from being subbed, first under Roberto Mancini and then Pellegrini. It’s indicative of his present malaise that a player of his size and stature could justifiably lay claim to being City’s fabled ‘Invisible Man’.
In fairness he was one of many on a wretched Saturday evening.
Nothing went right for record buy Kevin De Bruyne, whereas the desperately disappointing Raheem Sterling had the Scousers laughing all the way to the bank.
Kolarov, Fernando and Navas played to the lowly standard of the majority in sky blue and, with Christmas around the corner, one wonders if the whole team might consider donating their week’s ill-gotten gains (wages – without the win bonus) to a worthy cause?
The score line flattered City.
It spelled delight for a returning James Milner – back for the first time since swapping the Etihad for Anfield – and despair for Sterling, baited incessantly by the travelling fans, as the 20-year old failed to make anything happen.
Tumbling from first to third place in the Premier League – a fourth loss in 19 games in all competitions this season – isn’t the end of the world.
It can’t justify knee-jerk reactions calling for Pellegrini to be sacked, or extinguish hopes of a third title in five years and progressing deeper than ever before into the latter stages of the Champions League.
It does however raise concerns on Pellegrini’s team selection, game management and tactical nous and, even more worryingly, the attitude and application of the players, many of whom appeared nonchalant and downright lazy against Liverpool.
That’s five out of six PL points dropped following the disappointing 0-0 draw at Villa Park, immediately before the international break. The sweet 3-1 success in Seville seems light years ago.
As defending Premier League Champions, City have twice been found wanting when it came to possessing the hunger and desire to retain their title.
Has someone forgotten to tell them 2015/16 is the ‘win one’ option in the ‘win one, lose one, win one, lose one’ pattern that’s prevailed since the 2011/12 season?
Perhaps it’s stating the obvious, but Pellegrini has often been quoted as saying he wants to win every competition his team enters, but if this is to be his third and final season at City, one wonders if the Champions League is the priority of priorities?
It’s certainly the football Holy Grail of Sheikh Mansour and Khaldoon Al Mubarak, but it’s a poor show if the owners and management at City think losing to Liverpool is a price worth paying for jubilation against Juventus.
Maybe Manuel is hoping for some divine intervention, as he seeks to resurrect his team’s fortunes in the city which is home to the Shroud of Turin at the Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist.
The authenticity of the length of linen cloth – reputed to be the burial shroud of Jesus of Nazareth – has long been the subject of intense debate among theologians, historians and researchers.
All Pellegrini wants to do is bury Juventus – maybe with the help of a ‘reborn’ Jesus of Navas – and nail City’s status as Champions League Group winners for the first time.
A win in Turin would live long in the memory, but as things stand, the lamentable loss to Liverpool is seared painfully into the psyche of every City supporter.
By David Walker
www.readbutneverred.com @ReadButNeverRed @djwskyblu