City Show How Much Work There Is To Do

Again, Manchester City didn't look overawed by playing Barcelona, but Nick Miller writes that Wednesday night showed how far they have to go to truly compete with them...

Last Updated: 13/03/14 at 09:32 Post Comment

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Ah well. They gave it a decent go, didn't they?

Many, including our very own Daniel Storey, advised Manchester City to go hard at Barcelona, or else they stood no chance. And they sort of did it. Sort of.

They attacked Barcelona with a controlled aggression without being too gung-ho about things, but the encouraging thing for City was that they didn't seem intimidated by playing in the Nou Camp. They were not cowed by the stadium, the occasion or the players they faced, but still they weren't quite good enough.

City fans will no doubt complain - with some justification - about the penalty against Edin Dzeko that wasn't awarded, and the subsequent dismissal of Pablo Zabaleta for complaining about it, but of course Joleon Lescott could have been dismissed and given away a penalty himself in the first 15 minutes, and that's before we get to the Barcelona goal rather debatably disallowed.

Like Arsenal against Bayern Munich, this was a performance that could and probably will be patronisingly called 'brave', and large portions of the blame could be placed on the officials.

However, unlike Arsenal, this wasn't a defeat to the very best side in the competition, possibly the world. Obituaries have been written for this Barcelona side - on this very site in fact - with scandal and the cruel advance of time chipping away at this, perhaps the greatest team of a generation. They probably won't win their domestic title (indeed, there's a good chance they'll finish third in Spain), and they're even more unlikely to win the Champions League.

And yet they were still demonstrably too good for City over both legs. As these two games have shown, City are still a way off the top level of sides in Europe, and further emphasises what a missed opportunity the summer of 2012 was. They had beaten Manchester United to the Premier League and should have taken that chance to bury their local rivals, and simultaneously make further strides in Europe. As it was they spent the thick end of £40million and somehow managed to make their squad worse.

The hangover from that transfer window was further in evidence in Barcelona. The obvious point to make is that this game, and one incident in particular, exposes the lie that Jose Mourinho has done his best to spread that this is an unstoppable Manchester City squad, with brilliance in every position. Much like Martin Demichelis in the first leg, Lescott actually played pretty well until his error that laid on Leo Messi's goal, but when that error is such a bad one, it doesn't matter too much how well you play in the other 89 minutes of the game. Replacing Demichelis with Lescott might just be a subtle sign that your squad isn't quite good enough.

On Wednesday City simply didn't take their chances when they had them, with Samir Nasri and Zabaleta among the men who spurned perfectly presentable opportunities, something that is simply suicidal against a side like Barcelona.

Of course, not being as good as Barcelona is very far from a disgrace, and Manuel Pellegrini, watching from a very well-appointed naughty step in the Nou Camp gods, will have seen plenty to encourage him. However, City played very well on Wednesday, but that still wasn't good enough to win, or even really make it especially close.

Sarah Winterburn wrote after the first leg that City didn't look out of place at the Champions League table, but the second leg displayed that they have some work to do in order to reach the top of it.

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