Manuel Pellegrini justified his team’s first half collapse at the hands of Barcelona by insisting that his club have not invested any more than the Catalans in recent years.
The Chilean included the £75m signing of Luis Suarez as evidence that it is wrong to characterise City as the big spenders of the two. “I don’t think we have invested any more than Barcelona. They have also invested a lot of money. It is impossible to demonstrate we can compete at this level. This tie isn’t over until the game ends in Barcelona,” he said after the 2-1 defeat. “We can analyse it then. Suarez, Neymar, Messi was a big investment by Barcelona.”
By the financial indicator which provides the most accurate sense of how well a team should perform – wages – City are the bigger spenders. Analysis by the respected blog The Swiss Ramble has shown that they have the second highest wage bill in Europe with €256m, ahead of both Real Madrid €250m and Barcelona €248m.
City have simply not spent their money as well as they might. With the exception of Yaya Toure, they continue to lack a midfielder who hold down a place in one of the world’s top ten sides – and even Toure has gone missing in some of City’s biggest games, by venturing forward out of position and leaving the defence exposed. They also looked far more vulnerable defensively than the Spanish side.
If – as seems likely – City fail to secure the 2-0 they need in Catalunia to reach the Champions League quarter-final next month, attention must focus on their failure to use the transfer market to improve in any area of the field, in the past three and a half years. When it came to the crunch lhere, Fernandinho was only deemed worthy of a place on the bench. Fernando, a more defence-minded holding midfielder, started but was a liability at times. Fernando’s poor, error-strewn display made him a less effective player than Gareth Barry was in the City midfield, before he was released to Everton.
Yet another poor start to a European game also raises questions about Pellegrini’s ability to deliver instructions that his players will follow in big fixtures – and his capacity to give them the motivation they need not to be overwhelmed.
Of course, Pellegrini denied there had been a problem. But his press conference was full of self-justification and contradictions. He said he was “very happy” with his 4-4-2 selection and that “it was the way we must play against Barcelona.” But then he said: “I didn’t say I was happy with the way we played in the first half. We didn’t play in the first half.”
Pellegrini’s comments in post-match press conferences are often meaningless when his side play poorly and lose. There was a partial admission from him that they had not been properly prepared when he said: “We couldn’t put three passes together in the first half. There was a bit of confusion. We committed a very soft error for the first goal. We managed to be calmer in the second [half.]”
David Silva seemed to admit that City were daunted by Barcelona and so failed to press them with enough energy. “We know we weren’t good [in the first half],” he said. “I think we didn’t press well. We were late to balls. Barca’s touch is so fast and after that they have the advantage. I think we sorted that in the second half, though, and were better. We didn’t play in the first half in the way we’d like. We came in at half-time and knew we weren’t playing well.” He suggested that the team had found its own solutions to the disastrous first half. “The team knows how to figure things out, and in the end, one thing is that it could have been worse.”
The truth was one which dare not speak its name in the aftermath of a defeat like this. Man for man, department for department, City were inferior.