Banished from Europe, even its least glamorous corners, Manchester City face days of brutal self-examination.
It is not as if they haven’t come up to standard yet again at the highest level of the club game. They just haven’t come up. They haven’t shown their faces. They have been taught so many lessons that you have to wonder if they are less a work in progress than one in ruins.
With Borussia Dortmund home free as serious contenders in the knockout phase of the Champions League and key players like Robert Lewandowski, at the start, and Mario Götze looking on, most instructive of all was the body language of their highly prized coach Jürgen Klopp.
This could only be heightened by City’s Roberto Mancini wearing, more than ever, the expression of a tragic hero in the dugout and Rafa Benitez facing another ordeal of hostility on the Stamford Bridge touchline tonight. Here, certainly, was a coach perfectly at peace with himself and, even more crucially, his young and brilliant team.
There was no call for brilliance last night, not with the toughest of the groups already under lock and key, but if Dortmund were both under-strength and under-motivated this didn’t prevent moments when Klopp’s run of two German titles and a superb impact on the world’s most important club competition was beautifully expressed.
If Klopp, 45, who is said to be somewhere in the thoughts of Roman Abramovich if Pep Guardiola finally delivers an unequivocal no, had irritation to express, if he would have liked to have seen a little more purpose from his men in the first half, the expression of it was muted. This was especially so when you considered some of the recent public exasperation of both Mancini and Benitez.
Part of Klopp’s secret may indeed be an ability to choose carefully those occasions to criticise and educate — and those to celebrate the work that has been achieved in four remarkable years of inexorable progress.
One of the latter was certainly met with huge exuberance when his majestic 23-year-old Marco Reus – surely the steel of the year at £15m – swept in on the City defence and brought a fine save from Joe Hart. Klopp raised his arms in the cold Ruhr night, warmed to his marrow, you could plainly enough, by the grace and the power of what he had just seen.
He was also exuberant about the the skill and bite from Ivan Perisic and Kevin Grosskreutz which required more superior resilience from the suddenly besieged Joe Hart. When his team came full circle from their initial inertia, and scored the goal which threatened City’s ambivalent ambition to return to the lost reaches of the Europa League, he might have been rejoicing over a masterpiece as he pumped his arms and again looked to the heavens. In fact he was responding to what was merely an excellent strike, a piece of controlled aggression which City had scarcely touched thus far.
Substitute Jakub Blaszczkowski blazed down the right before sending in a lacerating cross that precisely dissected the City cover. Lewandandowski’s starting replacement Julian Schieber will never be presented with a more comfortable strike.
Mancini’s must have had another vision of a crumbling empire, one which in the circumstances might have been even more devastating than the discouragement met in the pitched battles against Dortmund, Ajax and Real Madrid back at the Etihad Stadium. It seemed that Dortmund, who we might have imagined would simply go through the motions, had simply forgotten how to lower their own expectations.
Mancini had to make the usual gestures, in which of course Sergio Arguero will never be rated as an empty one. Inevitably, the Argentine raised the City pulse rate. He was accompanied by Mario Balotelli, who did not look exactly in the mood to bring further distress to the crowd whose noisy welcome no doubt had much to do with his destruction of their national team in the European Championship last summer.
Klopp’s response was to bring on Lewandowski. This gave the coach new reasons to express his joy and contentment on the touchline, the Pole quickly adding to the pressure building around Hart. Balotelli had time only to earn a yellow card. It was a dismal and maybe appropriate end to a campaign which in the end had become embarrassing.
City return England to renew their domestic war with Manchester United weighed down by the unprecedented failure of an English club to win in Champions League group action. They may rescue their Premier League title, they may draw some value from the weight of their individual talent, but it will surely take time before they are equipped to take their place amoung the elite of Europe.
They were not so much beaten last night as confirmed to be officially downgraded.