As the top and bottom teams in Group D of the Champions League meet here tonight, their respective managers are insisting both will be treating an almost dead tie with the utmost seriousness. Borussia Dortmund are already guaranteed finishing top and have just played "the German clasico" against Bayern Munich, emerging from the 1-1 draw with several knocks and strains. Manchester City have their own biggest match of the season, at home to Manchester United, in five days' time and Roberto Mancini knows that even moving up from fourth to third in the group to earn the dubious prize of a Europa League place is likely to diminish the prospect of retaining the Premier League title – surely the greater priority.
On the other hand, staying bottom, which will happen if City fail to win, will worsen their already poor Uefa ranking, ensuring that next season there is every chance of being drawn in a section as daunting as the group of four champions that comes to a conclusion this evening.
Mancini's take on it all last night was: "It could be difficult in the Europa League because you play on Thursdays and don't have much time to recover for the Premier League. But we must try to play in the Europa League and we will do our best. We have brought all the players who are available and they'll do everything to win the game. But Borussia will be difficult because they are one of the best teams in Europe." David Silva has a hamstring injury and may miss the derby on Sunday as well and Yaya Toure is suspended tonight.
Mancini said that if City do make the Europa League he would effectively field two teams, one in Europe and one in the Premier League. If the City team held 1-1 by Everton on Saturday is to be shaken up, Joleon Lescott, the injured Aleksandar Kolarov and Edin Dzeko may all drop out. Dzeko was nevertheless put up for interview last night, when he said of the club he played against while at Wolfsburg: "They've shown in the Champions League that they are a fantastic team. But if it's possible to win and play in the Europa League that will be good for us."
City's campaign was clearly under threat once a late defeat away to Real Madrid in the opening game was followed by the fortunate 1-1 draw at home to Dortmund. They only equalised with Mario Balotelli's controversial last-minute penalty as Mancini admitted: "Joe Hart saved us from an incredible defeat,". Hart himself added: "I thought Dortmund were different class." The German side went on to prove it by taking four points from Real, then winning 4-1 at Ajax (where City lost 3-1) to win the group with a game in hand.
They can now afford to rest players like Neven Subotic and Sven Bender, who both suffered minor strains against Bayern, as well as Robert Lewandowski, the Bundesliga's joint leading scorer. Lewandowski is allegedly interesting United, but Dortmund's coach Jürgen Klopp said last night: "Manchester United are one of many teams showing interest in him but I have no worries. His contract is with us. The time when there were big rich English clubs coming here to try to lure our best players away from Germany, thank God, that time is over."
The other player City would hope to see left out is Mario Götze, who will need a fitness test today. The 20 year-old midfielder is developing into such a talent that Kicker magazine was asking yesterday whether he is most like Lionel Messi, Xavi or Zinedine Zidane.
Even with a win, City would still finish bottom if Ajax were to pull off an upset in Madrid. But first things first; a belated first win of another disappointing Champions League campaign amid the intense atmosphere of the Signal Iduna Park stadium will be difficult enough for Mancini's side to achieve.
Kick-off Tonight, 7.45pm, Westfalenstadion.
TV Sky Sports 2. Referee M Mazic (Serb).
Odds: Dortmund 6-5, Draw 11-4, Man City 2-1.
Suspended Y Touré (Man City).