Roberto Mancini could not hide the strain as Manchester City conceded another three goals away in the Champions League. The disastrous switch to 3-5-2 again backfired as, unlike Borussia Dortmund, Ajax did capitalise on City's self-destruction to double their lead, raising serious questions about Mancini as a Champions League manager.
City have taken just one point from their opening three games in the group stage and can only take a maximum of 10 - the same total they tallied last year when they were eliminated.
Excusing Mancini because City have been drawn in another group of death is superfluous. City deserved more flak for exiting the Champions League in December 2011 but Manchester United's more humiliating exit from the tournament masked the Blues' incompetence. Although it is feasible another English side may not progress to the last 16 this season, there will be no hiding place this time for the Premier League champions.
Ajax, Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund are a tougher trio than last year's triumvirate of Bayern Munich, Napoli and Villarreal, but City are supposedly better and have spent another fortune on getting better.
Mancini can't hide his frustration
But their manager appears to be sabotaging any attempts to advance. Not withstanding the switch to the suicidal 3-5-2, Niklas Moisander's header to give Ajax a 2-1 lead came via the hazardous zonal marking system and City not deploying a player on either post. Mancini said: "It's my fault because I didn't tell to him [Joleon Lescott] to jump." Managerial trolling?
His mea culpa extended to him admitting he did not prepare well enough for the game. He said something similar after a league loss to Everton last season, and that preparation can be traced back to the final day of the transfer window when City brought in Javi Garcia, Maicon and Matija Nastasic in a desperate splurge. One defensive midfielder and two defenders, but none of them the world-class centre-back City required to partner Vincent Kompany.
Maicon, a peculiar addition, has not played since he was eviscerated by Cristiano Ronaldo in the opening Champions League game at Real Madrid on 18 September. Nastasic is only 19 and Garcia, despite playing just five times, has struggled to convince. Even the usually imperious Yaya Touré has been humbled by both Dortmund and Ajax's sprightly midfielders and Lescott's failure to challenge Moisander was endemic of his poor form and his substitution was a vote of no confidence.
City are facing another Champions League failure
Irrespective of when his tenure at Eastlands ends the Italian is certified a lofty berth in City's pantheon. Yes, they did go 35 years without a trophy, but Mancini was the man who ended that drought before overseeing a Premier League title win and the most dramatic end to an English football season since it was up for grabs for Michael Thomas in 1989. City's penchant for late wins is a hallmark of an excellent side and, unsettlingly for the city neighbours, in the mould of United.
The caveat is that his success has come via, for lack of a better term, financial doping or scandals. His Scudetti wins with Internazionale in 2007 and 2008 were owed much to the calciopoli fall-out and most damningly, Mancini has never guided one of his teams past the last 16 stage of the Champions League. Inter were eliminated by Valencia and Liverpool while City appear destined to be jettisoned at the group stage again.
And there may be no Europa League football as compensation.
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