German football is the toast of Europe after another spectacular night of Champions League action which saw the English and Spanish champions defeated on the road and two Italian coaches fearing for their futures ...
What is it with City and the Champions League? How many more must-win games can they fail to win before Roberto Mancini's position as coach comes under serious threat? The Italian claims it is irrelevant that he has never been past the quarterfinal (with Inter Milan and City) but at some point, that excuse wears thin.
City had less possession in the first half in the Amsterdam Arena, but when Samir Nasri opened the scoring against the run of play, a curled finish from a tidy one-touch move involving Micah Richards and James Milner, it looked like its problems might be over. Ajax was on the ropes, and Nasri and Sergio Aguero missed chances before Siem de Jong, the hosts' best player, slammed in a smart equalizer just before the break.
Ten minutes into the second period, Ajax defender Niklas Moisander beat Joleon Lescott to a simple header from a corner to head past Joe Hart. That forced Mancini into another change, shifting to a defensive back three (Richards-Vincent Kompany-Gael Clichy), which had failed in its two previous European outings. It failed again: Christian Eriksen was afforded far too much space to shoot, even if his effort, for Ajax's third, deflected in off Kompany.
By the end, there was no system: City had all four strikers on the pitch, and though it did have chances, with Edin Dzeko twice denied in one-on-ones and Nasri shooting wide, Ajax held on. Ajax coach Frank de Boer deserves credit for his system and faith in young players, but this story is about City: and this post-mortem will take time.
"We crumbled in the second half," Richards said. "[Three at the back] Is something we've not worked on for long; the manager likes it, but it's a hard system because we're not used to it. I think players prefer 4-4-2, but he's the manager -- we'll do what he says."
City is now stuck in a vicious circle: another European failure means next season it will be in another tough group. Will Mancini be there, too? After talking up the Champions League as this season's main target, and successive group-stage failures, there is a case building against him.
As for whom City might fancy in his place, well, the owners might not have to look out of Group D. Dortmund coach Jurgen Klopp gave notice of his talent in Matchday Two's dominant 1-1 draw at the Etihad Stadium, and Wednesday, his side beat Spanish champion Real Madrid, thanks to goals from Robert Lewandowski and Marcel Schmelzer. Dortmund is now atop Group D with seven points, and Madrid has six. The result is not a disaster for Jose Mourinho, another coach who may be considered for the City post (especially if, as was reported Wednesday, Pep Guardiola takes up interest from Manchester United), but it leaves City well back in fourth. And Mancini is now a coach under major pressure.
Two players once linked with moves to Arsenal, Klaas-Jan Huntelaar and Ibrahim Afellay, did the damage in a deserved away win which puts the Germans atop Group B. Jefferson Farfan enjoyed his night, regularly beating left back Andre Santos, who was caught out for the second goal, while Arsenal fans made their feelings clear about Arsene Wenger's preference to play Gervinho at center forward. This result could make a difference to Arsenal's season, if it fails in the return in Gelsenkirchen in a fortnight: finishing second in its group last season landed Arsenal a knockout tie against Barcelona. That is something all teams will want to avoid this time around.
PSG and Porto, 3-2 winners over Dynamo Kiev, seem certain to qualify from Group A, but in what order? They face each other again on Matchday Six in what could be the decider: Porto won 1-0 at home, so anything better would see PSG leapfrog into the top spot.
The 1-0 home win over AC Milan came after Joaquin skied a first-half penalty over the bar; the same player scored the winning goal, leaving Milan boss Massimiliano Allegri wondering if he can catch a break. Milan is still second in Group C, but only one point behind is Russian champion Zenit St. Petersburg, which needed a late penalty to edge past Anderlecht. Malaga is as good as through to the knockout phase, and Milan and Zenit are fighting for second. It's all building up nicely to another Matchday Six decider. Whoever said the group stages were boring?