James Lawton: Roberto Mancini has to retreat but at last his Manchester City side resemble a fighting force
The degree of the failure could only be measured by the ease which Borussia Dortmund were winning the group
If Roberto Di Matteo had to go after winning the Champions League in less than three months, what fate his compatriot Robert Mancini for failing to reach the foothills in two years?
Mancini does have the advantage of working for a club which seems to understand that you cannot buy football titles quite as easily as you can super-yachts or pieces of art but there were times last night when City’s desert chieftains must have wondered about patience being a virtue.
Certainly the widespread belief that Sheik Mansour and his advisers covet the services of Pep Guardiola almost as much as Roman Abramovich made a little more sense each time Real ripped through Mancini’s defensive guard with bewildering ease.
Karim Benzema’s goal after 10 minutes was scored with ridiculous ease after Maicon was utterly dislocated by the perfect weight of Angel di Maria’s cross.
Three more might have followed as Cristiano Ronaldo picked his way through the City defence but the fact they didn’t, most notably when the great man slightly under-clubbed his shot at an empty goal and then when Joe Hart foiled Sami Khedira at point-blank range, gave Mancini one last chance to fight against another ignominious retreat from Europe.
He did it forcefully enough to provoke football more appropriate to the champions of England – and especially ones who have just begun to exert a little domestic authority. City began to play in that way which has made such nonsense of the belief that a team of such formidable individuals required some open-ended training course at the highest level of the game.
When Mancini also provided Yaya Touré with a little more support in the wide open spaces of midfield and brought on Carlos Tevez, City immediately began to resemble something more like a genuine fighting force.
They moved with the kind of conviction that has so relentlessly deserted them at the onset of European competition and, of course, whenever there is hope in the air for City there is almost invariably Sergio Aguero.
A fine talent, he has also offered City the help of a force of nature and just when their hopes of keeping a toe-hold in Europe were beginning to ebb after the opening second-half assault, it was inevitably the Argentine who conjured the most biting resistance. He outran Alvaro Arbeloa into the box, forcing the Real defender into a stumbling foul and a red card. Aguero’s nerveless conversion of the penalty was his and City’s reward for their resolve not to go so easily.
It also required Jose Mourinho’s team to produce defence as acutely professional as the counter-attacking which had earlier threatened to create a victory of quite embarrassing ease. This, City could note with great regret, is a task that should never be made easy against players of the quality of Arguero and a David Silva who became increasingly waspish as the game wore on.
In the last moments it was Silva who produced a near sublime ball to the feet of Tevez but perfection was not quite achieved when the Real goalkeeper Iker Casillas intervened.
For City there had been a certain saving of face but it was one of the night and not of the campaign. The degree of the failure could only be measured by the ease which Borussia Dortmund, young and full of confidence, were winning the group in which City had never been a serious factor.
For Mancini it was a denouement that could only increase the pressure in the wake of the extraordinary fall of Di Matteo.
His own owners have, after all, displayed a degree of forbearance that last night had never looked so thin.
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