Take 10 seconds to consider the richest clubs in Europe and who do you come up with?
Real Madrid. Manchester United. Barcelona. Bayern Munich. Chelsea.
And Manchester City.
Now spot the odd one out.
Manchester City’s inability to turn up in the Champions League is fast becoming a serious puzzle for football fans all over Europe; and I’ve got to be honest and say that I really am scratching my head to come up with a reason why City are so insipid in Europe.
Their latest underwhelming result – a 1-1 draw at home to Roma – highlights the fact that when it comes to big European games, Pellegrini’s team just doesn’t seem to have what it takes to win.
The draw against the Italian runners-up leaves City languishing in third position in their group, with one point from their first two games. For a side that has spent so much and enjoyed some genuine domestic success in the last few years, the prospect of them actually failing to qualify for the knockout stages is unthinkable.
Whilst there is not one specific reason why City don’t seem to be able to dominate European games in the same way they do in the Premier League, I do believe there is one key area that Pellegrini could improve almost overnight.
In the Premier League, Pellegrini deploys a 4-4-2 formation, with either Edin Dzeko or Stefan Jovetic partnering Sergio Aguero in attack. With pacey wide players and a swashbuckling box-to-box midfielder, City are able to quickly transition up the pitch and feed their extremely talented strikers.
Football in Europe is a bit different, and to me it seems to be Pellegrini’s inability to accept this and take action to change it that is at the heart of the problem.
When a team plays 4-4-2, they effectively only have two midfielders in the centre of the pitch. This is especially the case with City as they favour two wide wingers. The trouble with this formation is that when Pellegrini’s side comes up against a team playing a 4-2-3-1, or a variation of it, their midfield is overrun.
Now, in the Premier League that is rarely an issue, because the City players are technically superior to the majority of the players they come up against; but in Europe it’s a different kettle of fish.
By playing a 4-4-2, City are effectively inviting the opposition to attack them through the middle; and whilst they do have the players to cope with attacking onslaughts, it means they are frequently ceding possession. The knock-on effect of this is that the team finds it much more difficult to get into games. City like to dominate proceedings, and if they’ve got the ball less than the opposition, they find it far more difficult to do precisely that.
It is too early to say that all is lost for City in this European campaign, but I have to be honest and say that things don’t look good. It seems highly unlikely that City will be able to beat Bayern at home, whilst on the evidence of the game against Roma, their trip to Italy will be anything but a walk in the park.
If we’re being blunt, City need to start doing better in the Champions League. Their spending is up there with the biggest teams in Europe, but their football is not. If that doesn’t change, one would think that Pellegrini will pay the price.