Real Madrid 3 Manchester City 2. What a cracking game to open the UEFA Champions League season! Manchester City almost pulled off a major shock in Madrid but fell at the final hurdle. With a little more ambition, they might have succeeded against a Real side that has yet to click into gear this season.
City’s tactics proved to be their downfall. They adopted the sort of approach taken by Chelsea in the latter stages of the competition, when an out-of-sorts team, lacking in vitality and confidence, “ponced” its way past Napoli, Barcelona and then Bayern.
But there was no need for City to do this at all. They are a team on the up, unlike the Chelsea side of 2011-12 which was in need of the overhaul that has now started at Stamford Bridge. City’s team is full of talent, vibrancy and has even been reinforced in the summer. So, they should be in fine fettle.
Admittedly, City are Champions League novices, so they can be forgiven for adopting a safety-first strategy in Madrid. If they had not played so deep, perhaps Ronaldo would not have had the time to send in that late shot that deceived Joe Hart.
Did City worry Real? They certainly did. Their start to 2012-13 has not been good – two defeats already in La liga – and already the vultures are circling Estadio Santiago Bernabeu. Jose Mourinho does look a little hangdog at the moment – against City his normally pristine suit looked as though he’s spent a rough night on the sofa in it. And when Real scored their winner, he pushed his colleagues out of the way like a spinster desperately trying to grab a bridal bouquet flung in the air, only to slide to the ground in his customary goal celebration. Grass stains on the suit are worth it sometimes, but the Real Madrid laundry bill will include dry-cleaning this week! This suggests a degree of pressure, although “the special one” will deny it. Well he might, for if he does get the Spanish fiddler (El Bow) from Senor Perez, there will be other clubs willing to start a new Mourinho project. So City can take heart – not Hart – from their performance and the fact they ran one of the favourites so very close.
City have to learn to mix in such exalted circles, however. They are in a Champions League group that is laden with pitfalls, although the crunch for them may be the two games with Dortmund, who got off to a stuttering start against Ajax. They will have to be more positive if they want to make up for the ground lost in Madrid.
City have the resources to live with the likes of former Champions League winners. Self belief is all that may be missing in making them feel more at home at that level.