Save City's Plaudits For A Big Achievement

Man City are through to the Champions League knockout rounds for the first time, but Philip Cornwall says this doesn't mean Manuel Pellegrini is thus an improvement on Roberto Mancini

Last Updated: 06/11/13 at 08:58 Post Comment

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Unless Sergio Aguero, Alvaro Negredo and friends do something remarkable at the Allianz Arena on December 13, Manchester City will finish behind Bayern Munich in Group D. Yet the Champions League's German holders - and any English sides that qualify as group winners - will be grateful, however, that they cannot be drawn immediately against a club almost as well off for goalscorers as they are for petrodollars.

Manuel Pellegrini's success at reaching the last 16 of the Champions League after Roberto Mancini's double failure is at first glance an immediate endorsement of the Italian's dismissal and the Chilean's appointment. But while Mancini, stubborn and misguided, made plenty of mistakes in Europe, he also enjoyed misfortune of a kind that Pellegrini escaped.

Last season was disastrous for the then Premier League champions, with United fans being able to go beyond "Thursday night, Channel Five" and chant: "No, no; no, no, no, no; no, no, no, no - there's no Europe!" at December's derby after City propped up their group. It was embarrassing to be winless with just three points and finish behind an Ajax side not fit to bear the name of their illustrious predecessors.

Real Madrid, though, are always high-class opposition and were troubled by City til the death at the Bernabeu, in what proved a crucial opening game. And the fourth team in the group were a Borussia Dortmund rising in their own right and coming from a league on its way up: Jurgen Klopp's side were heading all the way to narrow, late defeat in the final.

The previous season City fared far better, winning three games and amassing 10 points, despite being drawn against Bayern, Napoli and Villarreal - all decent opponents at the very least, in a group comprising teams from Europe's top four leagues. Napoli did just enough to squeeze Mancini's side out but it was a creditable performance for City in their first season of the modern elite competition, albeit one overshadowed by the question of what precisely Carlos Tevez refused to do during the defeat at Bayern.

Of course, the decline the following season was substantial. Meanwhile, Pellegrini can only beat the teams put in front of him, but Viktoria Plzen were no threat to anyone and it is indisputable that the greatest threat CSKA Moscow carry is to human decency.

If another Premier League side went out to Manchester City in the FA Cup third round one season then beat York City at that stage a year later, we wouldn't go overboard in hailing the improvement. The one real European test for Pellegrini's men so far - against Bayern - was failed, and badly so. The defence, with or without Joe Hart, will look welcoming to whoever forms the opposition in the last 16. Save the plaudits for a more worthwhile achievement, if any.

Philip Cornwall

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