Vincent Kompany has witnessed all 28 of Manchester City’s games in the Champions League since first earning their place at Europe’s top table in 2011.
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His view that Tuesday’s 3-1 victory over Sevilla was “probably our best performance” in the competition therefore comes with a considerable degree of authority and is more than just lip service.
Manchester City, and not just in terms of results, have been a disappointment in the Champions League, unable to replicate their powerful, domineering performances of the Premier League. It has, on many occasions, been like watching a totally different side.
After the loss to Juventus on Matchday 1, it was a case of same old story as a contest they led finished in a 2-1 defeat. But three games later and they are now into the last 16.
— Champions League (@ChampionsLeague) November 3, 2015
Granted, it has not been without further drama as they rode their luck at times in Monchengladbach before Sergio Aguero’s last-minute penalty winner. Kevin De Bruyne was also on hand to provide a 90th minute strike to overcome Sevilla two weeks ago.
Two games that could so easily have been draws and Group D would be taking on a very different complexion. But bad sides don’t tend to score last-minute goals to win games, especially not in Europe, and while opposing fans may be quick to prefix City’s progress as “fortunate”, there’s a reason all the best teams tend to get lucky.
True to Kompany’s assessment, Tuesday night at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan showed City at their best, and not just in continental competition.
The visitors, without Sergio Aguero and David Silva and Kevin De Bruyne playing just 17 minutes, took 22 shots to Sevilla’s 11. The Andalucians having won their three previous league games at home, including a 2-1 victory over Barcelona.
City were in control – at both ends – and it was a marked departure from previous encounters, filled with trepidation.
“We weren’t naive, we were solid,” was another telling revelation by Kompany. With Fernandinho bossing midfield, and the defensive unit impressive, in returning to a traditional ‘British style’, City’s foreign legion delivered their most complete display yet.
Manuel Pellegrini appears to have taken the shackles off in recent weeks, in more ways than one. Domestically they are, when the occasion suits, scoring goals at will: six against Newcastle and five against Crystal Palace and Bournemouth. But at the same time there is a degree of solidity, maybe sparked by Aguero’s injury or the 4-1 loss at Spurs.
The goalless Manchester derby was tedious at best but it was City’s first clean sheet for eight matches. They went into the game looking a little vulnerable but it could prove to be an important building block in the evolution of their season. Pellegrini’s almost legendary tactical stubborness is slowly slipping. City are finding a different way to play.
Pragmatism, as ugly as it may seem, is a necessary evil at times. What is crucial now is to secure top spot in the group. Never mind the glamour of Barca, Madrid or Bayern, they can wait. City need a winnable tie to build on this momentum and confidence.
Juve reached the semi-finals last year beating a poor Dortmund side and then Monaco over two legs. With such enhanced belief, a group of players that had previously underperformed in Europe, then reached the final. Sound familiar?
Louis van Gaal stood by his controversial decision to substitute Anthony Martial for Marouane Fellaini in Manchester United’s narrow victory over CSKA Moscow.
United moved to the top of their Champions League group on Tuesday after they beat their Russian opponents 1-0 thanks to Wayne Rooney’s 237th goal for the club.
The victory means United will qualify for the knockout stages of the competition if they beat PSV at home in three weeks’ time.
Yet despite the victory, and the end to a 404-minute long goal drought, some United supporters were far from happy during parts of the game.
Loud boos rang out around Old Trafford when Van Gaal replaced Martial with Fellaini in the 66th minute and the home support then yelled “We’re Man Utd, we want to attack”.
Had it not been for Rooney’s 79th-minute header, more boos would have followed after the final whistle, but Van Gaal was in no mood to back down after the match.
Asked if he had heard the crowd’s reaction, the Dutchman said: ”Of course, I am not deaf.
”That is the opinion of the fans. Afterwards they shall not be disappointed by the decision of the manager.
”I’m very happy because I put him again in the striker’s position and he scored.”
Rooney’s goal moved him level with the club’s second-highest scorer of all time, Denis Law.
“Law is a legend at this club so I am delighted to equal his record,” said Rooney, who is now 12 short of Sir Bobby Charlton’s all-time record. “We are top of the group now, so it’s a big three points.”
Jose Mourinho awoke Tuesday, like he does every day right now, to fresh revelations of discord amid his crumbling regime.
This time it was reports of a full-blooded player revolt led by Cesc Fabregas which had become so bad that senior players would rather lose than win for their beleaguered boss. It was a claim swiftly denied by the Spaniard and then subsequently by the manager himself.
Mourinho invoked the old principle of it being fine to accuse a professional of playing poorly but it being fundamentally wrong to question his ethics. No footballer plays to lose, he said.
Unfortunately that might just be a little too idealistic, as whether there’s a deliberate plot to undermine him or not, the players are not responding to him, and his chronic inability to elicit performances from the reigning English champions is desperately close to making his position untenable.
Of the various outstanding qualities which have made Mourinho the most successful manager of his generation, an ability to motivate players and imbue them with unshakeable conviction is perhaps at the top of the list.
So, to see a Mourinho team meekly surrender to lesser opposition again and again is mystifying for all who have followed his career – and especially it seems to the man himself.
On Tuesday he claimed a multitude of factors had combined to ruin Chelsea’s season, before declining to divulge further.
In that assessment, he is right. But the disconnect with his players is the most damaging aspect and if left unrepaired will cost him his job.
Mourinho is a manager who demands absolute authority but in the past that has been fortified by the advocacy of the leaders within his group.
At Chelsea, the quartet of Didier Drogba, Frank Lampard, Petr Cech and John Terry always provided vindication of his methods, their subservience pointing the way for the rest of the squad.
But after a summer of change, only the latter remains and Terry, who spoke well on his manager’s behalf on Tuesday, has seen his own supreme status diluted by diabolical form.
You are left to wonder would results have been this bad, Chelsea’s confidence so shockingly torn apart and their spirit so visibly lacking if Mourinho still had his trusted lieutenants in place?
Drogba for one was only brought back to the club last season for that very reason.
The British press has also claimed the treatment of first team medical staff members Eva Carneiro and Jon Fearn has alienated the players.
Outside of football clubs, morale and spirit are perceived to be measurements of the bond between players, but the unseen support network around them is just as vital.
Doctors, masseurs, kitmen, analysts… They are such a huge part of their everyday lives and consequently are often extremely popular figures at the training ground. Players come and go, but these are the people who give the club a sense of identity for the footballers to buy into.
Injustices against them are guaranteed to have a destabilising effect. Terry insists he and his team-mates are fully behind their boss but performances say otherwise.
Whether it’s the treatment of the club’s doctors, his tactics or public criticism of them, this Chelsea team is not playing like one desperate to save the manager.
Mourinho has bridges to build and quickly or there’s little doubt he will become ‘the Sacked One’.