Match Report: More agony for Roberto Mancini at Ajax as confusion condemns Manchester City again

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

Ajax 3 Manchester City 1

Amsterdam Arena

It really was what they said it might be – a Group of Death – and it has all-but certainly deposited Manchester City from the Champions League at the first hurdle once again. But what we witnessed from the side here last night was an act of self-immolation; a defeat which confirms that the club's own failings are the problem on an evening of dreadful defending and few chances created.

Plunged to the bottom of Group D, even wins in all three remaining games will provide no guarantee of progress for them now. They are playing for a Europa League place when Ajax arrive in Manchester, two weeks from now.

How to explain this baffling deficit between the side's domestic pre-eminence and European diffidence? There's an odd habit that Roberto Mancini has of blaming himself for defeat, which he tends to reserve for bad nights when no words will do. It first surfaced after the 3-0 reverse at Liverpool a few days before the 2011 FA Cup semi-final, again after defeats at Everton and Arsenal last season and it was trotted out once more last night, with no explanation of how the Italian was supposed to have failed. All a smokescreen, of course. But there does seem to be a lack of a plan.

Mancini brushed off Micah Richards' complaints about a three-man defence. Yet here, in the way he built and re-built his formations four times, was a real sense of a manager still computing how to put together a combination which can accomplish things in a tournament which has always defeated him and has delivered some of his most excruciating moments in football.

City had won only twice away in Europe in his tenure before last night and there was a back four in place which had never before played together on the Continent, with Joleon Lescott's start perhaps reflecting Mancini's realization that the more offensive Matija Nastasic really is not yet the big-game player he thought he would be. After the midfields which had been torn asunder by Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund – 57 shots had reined in Joe Hart's goal – there was a solid, old-fashioned Englishness about James Milner and Gareth Barry's holding roles.

They weathered the early storms from Frank de Boer's youthful charges in which Christian Eriksen was the best player on the field. They led through Samir Nasri, whose excellent, deftly weighted supply came from Milner, seizing the opportunity of only his sixth start in a season when his City star has seemed to be descending. But even the goal could not obscure the underlying uncertainties about how to play and to win in a tournament which slowly and inexorably has become Mancini's curse. Attack? Defend? Play narrow? Wide? Even as his side led, Mancini was switching things very significantly, restoring Yaya Touré from the advanced midfield three where he started in a 4-2-3-1, to the core of a 4-4-2. Milner, the holder, was repositioned wide right.

De Boer's possessed teenagers rather than millionaires, as one Dutch journalist reminded Mancini later, and in the brilliant Siem de Jong we saw another individual playing with freedom and assurance that comes of a club uncomplicated by wealth. De Boer also knew about some weaknesses in City. "Mario Balotelli, Samir Nasri and Sergio Aguero go to sleep. They do not chase full-backs," he said afterwards, and it was Nasri's fecklessness which allowed De Jong to stride past him and take a return pass into the area from the enterprising right-back Ricardo van Rhijn. No fewer than three City players fail to deal with that ball. Barry, the prime offender, wafted a leg. Vincent Kompany and Lescott were static. Milner, perhaps expecting at least one of them to cope, could not react fast enough to prevent De Jong depositing the equaliser.

It got worse. Very much worse. When Eriksen wafted a corner over from the right just before the hour, Lescott was simply outjumped and over-powered by the advancing Niklas Moisander, whose header put the Dutch side ahead. Another grievous moment for Mancini and the absence of eye contact between defender and manager when Lescott was substituted, a mere six minutes later, does not bode well for his confidence.

It brought another re-build – 3-5-2 – which ought not to have been a problem, to De Boer's mind. "If you are at a top club and your manager tells you to do something you must be able to do it. You must be able to change in three minutes," the Dutchman reflected later.

But the calamity which ensued on 68 minutes proved otherwise, when Lasse Schöne stole the ball from Barry and fed Eriksen. Kompany's studs seemed to get stuck in the turf as he advanced to challenge, allowing the Dane to ease around him and fire off a shot which Gaël Clichy deflected dismally into his own net.

There were shades of Dortmund when Hart hurled himself at a shot from Tobias Sana, eased through on goal by Schöne, to stave off an embarrassment. By then the system was morphing wildly from 3-3-4 and 2-4-4. Nasri looked like he was about to burst into tears when the Norwegian referee refused him a penalty: a feeble appeal. It was desperate – kitchen sink time – when Mario Balotelli arrived. But the real despair will come today, as Mancini awakes to wonder if he will ever grasps the secrets of Europe.

Booked: Ajax Blind. Manchester City Kolarov, Y Touré.

Man of the match Eriksen.

Possession: Ajax 54% Manchester City 46%.

Attempts on target: Ajax 6 Manchester City 5.

Referee S O Moen (Nor). Attendance 45,743.

Alexis Sanchez has completed a £35m move to Arsenal, the club have confirmed
sportGunners complete £35m signing of Barcelona forward
Poor teachers should be fearful of not getting pay rises or losing their job if they fail to perform, Steve Fairclough, headteacher of Abbotsholme School, suggested
voicesChris Sloggett explains why it has become an impossible career path
world cup 2014
Ray Whelan was arrested earlier this week
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
In a minor key: Keira Knightley in the lightweight 'Begin Again'
Arts and Entertainment
Celebrated children’s author Allan Ahlberg, best known for Each Peach Pear Plum
peopleIndian actress known as the 'Grand Old Lady of Bollywood' was 102
Wayne’s estate faces a claim for alleged copyright breaches
newsJohn Wayne's heirs duke it out with university over use of the late film star's nickname
Life and Style
It beggars belief: the homeless and hungry are weary, tortured, ghosts of people – with bodies contorted by imperceptible pain
lifeRough sleepers exist in every city. Hear the stories of those whose luck has run out
Mick Jagger performing at Glastonbury
Life and Style
fashionJ Crew introduces triple zero size to meet the Asia market demand
Santi Cazorla, Mikel Arteta and Mathieu Flamini of Arsenal launch the new Puma Arsenal kits at the Puma Store on Carnaby Street
sportMassive deal worth £150m over the next five years
Arts and Entertainment
Welsh opera singer Katherine Jenkins
musicHolyrood MPs 'staggered' at lack of Scottish artists performing
Life and Style
beautyBelgian fan lands L'Oreal campaign after being spotted at World Cup
Arts and Entertainment
Currently there is nothing to prevent all-male or all-female couples from competing against mixed sex partners at any of the country’s ballroom dancing events
Potential ban on same-sex partners in ballroom dancing competitions amounts to 'illegal discrimination'
Caption competition
Caption competition

Bleacher Report

Daily World Cup Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice