Bayern Munich display in the Champions League rings alarm bells for Manchester City... but also for England
Micah Richards awestruck by Germans, while only 10 home players featured in Champions League
Micah Richards did not pull any punches when it came to his analysis of Manchester City's defeat to Bayern Munich on Wednesday night which was a case, he said, of "men against boys" for a club that is still finding its way in elite European competition three seasons in.
There is no doubting it was a chastening experience for City's new era under Manuel Pellegrini. It asked questions of the City coach himself, and the wisdom of allowing his midfield to be overrun by Munich who, according to the principles Pep Guardiola held dear at Barcelona, are now devotees of the long passing sequences that cut right through the heart of opponents.
The painful issue of Joe Hart's indifferent form ahead of two crucial World Cup qualifiers for England this month was impossible to avoid. And for the England manager, Roy Hodgson, there were wider factors that must concern him about the number of players available for selection. Just 10 Englishmen started in the games played this week by the four English teams in the Champions League – four for Manchester United; three at Chelsea; two for City and one at Arsenal.
To put that in perspective, last year's winners, Bayern Munich, had six Germans in their Champions League starting XI this week, while fellow finalists Borussia Dortmund had five. There were more Germans – Per Mertesacker and Mesut Özil – than there were Englishmen (Kieran Gibbs) in the Arsenal XI. While the general trend at Arsenal is to field more Englishmen, this week was another troubling snapshot for English football.
The smaller picture for City on Wednesday night, however, was that their players – English or otherwise – were simply not good enough to live with the new intensive passing game of Guardiola's team. The statistics tell their own story: 60 per cent possession for Bayern and 461 passes completed against City's 214. Even Richards questioned why his side had not approached the game differently. "We won't win every game," he said, "but the manner we lost... sometimes against a better team you have to drop off and dig in.
"After that performance we all need picking up, it's not just Joe – it was men against boys. It wasn't good. Our star performers didn't take the game by the scruff of the neck.
"They are operating at a different level to the rest of Europe. I have played a lot of games and that is by far the hardest game I have ever played. To beat us at our place, there are not many teams that can come here and do that. We have to go back to the drawing board and see where it went wrong.
"It's scary [how well Bayern played], we have some very good players in our team but Bayern as a team – everyone working hard for each other, defending well, attacking well – they have been outstanding.
"This is one result – we beat United when everyone said they were the best team, then we went and lost to Villa. I see this as another bad performance. We have to go back and improve. We have them at their place and I'm not looking forward to it."
Bayern's president, Uli Hoeness, a long-term opponent of the Middle East and Russian oligarch money that has rolled into European football, afterwards declared himself "astonished" at the performance of his players given the strength of the opposition. "Before we had a super team, now we have a super, super team and the reason for that is Pep Guardiola. He works 12 hours a day and we have seen the results against City."
Hoeness has never been afraid of giving his opinion on what he feels is the superiority of German football's club structures, or indeed the probity of Spanish clubs' unpaid tax bills. Asked to make a distinction between the success of German football in producing players and the relative shortage of their English counterparts he said the success story had been driven by the clubs.
"It's not German football – it's the football of Dortmund and Bayern Munich. They are two teams with super coaches with Jürgen Klopp and before that at Bayern we had Jupp Heynckes. Now we have Guardiola. I don't think [the] financial [aspect] has anything to do with it, our players don't earn peas – they earn money. But the players are treated like families and that's important, they like that."
The Bayern goalkeeper, Manuel Neuer, said that the manner of his side's victory exemplified the way in which Guardiola wanted them to play. The theme of "control" came up more than once. "When we play a game like that it is important to have the control," he said. "Of course they can break fast but we know it is better to have the ball and play with control. These two or three fast breaks, we have to defend well. These are the things he [Guardiola] told us before this game."
Neuer is one of the six players who started for Guardiola on Wednesday night who are also key figures in the Germany team. "We know each other very well and that is important," he said. "We are comfortable playing together and that is important for the World Cup next year."
In the Schalke and Bayer Leverkusen Champions League games this week there were a further 15 Germans – eight at Leverkusen and seven at Schalke – in the starting line-ups. That is 26 across the four German teams alone, before you even count the exports like Özil and Sami Khedira. As preparation for international football goes, that is as good as it gets, even before you consider just how well Bayern played on Wednesday night.
Nicht gut! German dominance
English starters in the week's Champions League matches (for English clubs only)
Manchester United (4) Michael Carrick, Tom Cleverley, Chris Smalling, Danny Welbeck
Chelsea (3) Ashley Cole, Frank Lampard, John Terry
Manchester City (2) Joe Hart, Micah Richards
Arsenal (1) Kieran Gibbs
Total English starters: 10
German starters (German clubs only)
Bayer Leverkusen (8) B Leno, P Wollscheid, S Reinartz, S Rolfes, L Bender, R Hilbert, S Sam, S Kiessling
Schalke (7) T Hildebrand, B Höwedes, D Aogo, M Meyer, J Draxler, M Höger, R Neustädter
Bayern Munich (6) M Neuer, J Boateng, P Lahm, B S'steiger, T Müller, T Kroos
Borussia Dortmund (5) M Hummels, E Durm, S Bender, M Reus, K Grosskreutz
Total German starters: 26
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