** Roma’s Francesco Totti demonstrated, apparently, the full value of experience in scoring the goal which means that Manchester City are still pursuing a first win in the Champions League this season writes KEIR RADNEDGE.
But City’s failure to beat the Italian club and slippage in the Group E table was not merely a matter of knowhow, no matter how exquisite the manner in which the 38-year-old clipped the goal which matched Sergio Aguero’s early penalty.
Players such as Pablo Zabaleta, Vincent Kompany, Martin Demichelis, Gael Clichy, David Silva, Yaya Toure, Sergio Aguero and Edin Dzeko – to name only a few – know all about the big occasion, know all about playing on the great stages of the game.
The challenge for manager Manuel Pellegrini is that, somewhere deep in his team’s psyche, is a mental block when it comes to performing in the Champions League.
City have won only two home games out of five under Pellegrini in the competition. But the malaise goes back before his arrival in place of Roberto Mancini last year. In 2011-12 City finished third in their group, in 2012-13 they ended up fourth. Last season they finished second.
Even City fans remain to be convinced. Tuesday night’s attendance of 37,509 was 6,000 below the club’s overall Champions League average and 8,000 below their Premier League average this season. An online poll by Sky TV found only 35pc of respondents believing City would qualify for the second round.
City’s next two matches are home and away to CSKA Moscow and they need maximum points.
Pellegrini, famously, has set reaching the semi-finals as the club’s target this season and promised: “We hope to win the next game in Russia [against CSKA] and we will fight to the end to try to qualify.”
City’s manager has been criticised for naivety in European competition by playing with two strikers – Aguero and Dzeko on Tuesday night. Certainly they were outnumbered by Roma’s five-man spider’s web.
He said: “Every time you don’t reach the result of course there are a lot of different things you could have done. But we play a lot of games against strong teams in this way and we do it very well.
“Maybe today we were not very accurate with our passing, so when we started losing too many balls we did not have enough midfielders to recover.”
Midfielder Fernandinho suggested the problem went deeper than that, saying: “We have to find a different way of playing in the Champions League.”
Perhaps the problem is not so much technical and tactical but mental. As skipper Vincent Kompany said before the Champions League campaign had even begun: “Before we won the league it was more difficult to believe we could do it. Then we managed it. Now it’s the same with the Champions League. But there are always signs of us growing stronger.”
Just, perhaps, not enough of them on Tuesday night.