Tuesday’s draw with Roma was the fourth successive time that Manchester City have failed to win their opening home game in the Champions League, that’s surprising given how the Ethiad is a domestic fortress on which City have built league success. It’s a result which points towards the larger trend of City failing to live up to their domestic prowess in Europe’s elite competition.
Last season was the first time that they managed to make it out of the group stage, it must be said that they have faced tough draws in each of their four seasons in the Champions League, they’ve been pitted against Bayern Munich, Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund to name but a few.
There has been talk since City reached the Champions League of a lack of experience in the competition letting the side down, and while that may be true of the team it is not true of the players that make it up. Yaya Toure has won the Champions League with Barcelona, Demichelis was part of the Malaga side that progressed so far under Pellegrini a few seasons ago and many of these City players are now entering their fourth year in the competition. These are world class players who have won countless domestic and international trophies, there should be no doubting their ability to produce on the biggest stage and yet doubts remain.
A quick look at the statistics is enough to highlight the disparity between City in the Champions League and Premier League, in all but their first season in the competition they boasted considerably higher possession and pass accuracy in the Premier League than in Europe. Perhaps not surprising given the calibre of opponents is higher in the Champions League and City’s game is not overly based on possession, like Barcelona’s is. Also the fact that this is a sample of 6 games in the Champions League and if two of those are against a Guardiola side it’s understandable that City would have less possession. What it does point to though is that City have to make a shift from being the side that dominates the game to one that is on the back foot when in Europe. Maybe they’re not used to being the underdogs and that change of expectations could cause problems but this also highlights the need to paly differently in Europe to in the Premier League, maybe throw in another midfielder and sacrifice a striker.
Defensively the statistics also point out to less impressive performances in the Champions League. Manchester City have conceded more shots in the Champions League than Premier League in each of their four seasons in the competition. On average there’s also a trend for less tackles in the Champions League, a bit surprising given that they’ve had less of the ball on the whole, suggesting they’re not doing enough without the ball. Although in the past few seasons they have made more interceptions in the Champions League, that hasn’t been the case so far this season, again this supports the call for a 5 man midfield I think.
Going forward there’s cause for concern too, City are having fewer shots in Europe than in the Premier League and also fewer shots on target. That’s disappointing given the amount of attacking talent they’ve amassed. Again, this could be a result of simply playing better opponents more frequently but if City want to be the best in Europe they need to beat the best and should be aiming to play with the attacking swagger we’ve become accustomed to in the Premier League. City are also completing fewer dribbles in the Champions League, they’re being afforded less time and space than they might be used to. Also City are caught offside considerably more when playing in the Champions League than when playing domestically, that ties in with them having less possession and at times playing on the counter, they’ll be looking for long balls in behind more frequently and that would lead to more offsides. More offsides means more attacks will be broken down and is a component in City having fewer shots.
Overall it seems that the grumblings about City’s performances in Europe are justified, whether or not it’s down to them being bad or their opponents being better is tough to say, I feel it’s a combination of the two. Watching City in Europe they look lethargic at times and don’t always look up to the game, almost in awe of their opponents. Whether or not there’s a quick fix is hard to say but it’s looking like it’ll be another tough European campaign ahead of them.
Statistics courtesy of whoscored.com