FOOTBALL - After Manchester City’s 2-2 draw with Ajax on matchday 4, the general assessment was that City’s poor performances in the Champions League are manager Roberto Mancini’s fault and he needs to be replaced. Similar things are being said today after City’s elimination from the Champions League.
Leaving aside the arguments of whether a change of manager makes a difference, the fact is that City have failed to win in five matches against teams whose equivalents in the Premier League all finished in the top six last season. Firstly, is this really such a surprise and secondly, shouldn’t there be more focus on the toughness of the draw?
The second of those questions is the real story here in my opinion but it is barely being addressed anywhere despite being a near repeat of City’s draw in last season’s Champions League. City’s group this season contains the champions of four of UEFA’s top eight nations according to their current country coefficients. How can that be possible? The reason is that the draw is based on the club coefficients and teams not playing regularly in Europe suffer and it takes some time to rise to their proper position, a rise made arguably all the more difficult because the system as it stands puts them in tough groups. The Euro Club Index shows that Group D was the only group containing four of the top-25 teams in Europe and City are one of three hailing from the current top six.
Manchester City were placed in pot 2 but more crucially Bundesliga champions Borussia Dortmund, who are now guaranteed first place in Group D, were placed in pot 4. This pretty much made certain that the group containing Borussia Dortmund would be the group of death. However, City are also the first Premier League champions for many many years not to be in the top seeds for a Champions League group. They were therefore almost certainly going to be placed in a group, like last year, with a superior team to themselves. This made their task of progress much more difficult than it should have been. If you want to know more about how the Champions League draw works, go to Bert Kassies’ excellent resource.
On my other point, the Euro Club Index ranks Manchester City’s group opponents as approximate equivalents of Manchester United (although Real Madrid are reckoned to be a lot better), Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur. If City recorded the following results: Manchester United 3-2 Manchester City, Manchester City 1-1 Chelsea, Tottenham Hotspur 3-1 Manchester City, Manchester City 2-2 Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester City 1-1 Manchester United, would the reaction to these results have been the same as it is to their Champions League results? Not a great run admittedly but I have my doubts, particularly as only one of these matches saw more than a goal between the teams.
Given that I have been unable to read this anywhere else, this is my attempt to introduce a little variety into the ‘Manchester City in the Champions League’ debate. With a fairer Champions League draw, the current narratives involving Manchester City and Borussia Dortmund probably wouldn’t exist.