Europa League verdict: Manchester City 1 Dynamo Kiev 0 (1-2 agg)
Goal: Kolarov 39 mins for City.
And with a challenge all to reminiscent of Nigel de Jong in the World Cup final it was over. Mario Balotelli saw red in the first half and despite going on to win on the night, courtesy of an Aleksandar Kolarov strike, City went out of the Europa League 2-1 on aggregate.
Roberto Mancini went with his strongest available line-up and in the opening minutes City could have taken the lead. That man Mario skied a presentable chance over the bar. Kiev chose to defend their advantage and looked a far weaker side than they had in the Ukraine.
Even after Balotelli’s sending off, the priority for the Ukrainians was to defend the penalty area. It became the familiar story of City struggling to get behind a packed defence and create clear openings. This time, the team could be forgiven as they spent most of the evening a man down.
“He is a young boy of 20 and he has to learn from his mistakes.
“I told him. Everyone told him.
“He is still part of the squad and has a lot of potential. He is a very good player but has to realise, on a professional level, you sometimes have to change your mentality.”
Kiev appeared set on demonstrating how not to make an extra man count. Rarely did they look comfortable and have City chasing the ball. In contrast, Mancini’s men had the majority of possession.
To achieve a breakthrough, Mancini needed to make judicious use of his substitutions. All made sense but none had the desired effect.
Barry was having little influence on procedings and was first to go, giving us the welcome sight of Adam Johnson. The England man stuck to the right flank, but saw little of the ball. In hindsight the greater energy of Wright-Phillips might have been a better option.
The limping Silva made way for Dzeko and the Bosnian gave a welcome focal point to our attacks against an increasingly packed Kiev defence. Had he been on earlier Edin might have got on the end of Kolarov’s crosses. His sharp turn and shot from the edge of the penalty area was the closest we came to a breakthrough in the dying minutes.
Had the team been a little more disciplined in the first leg, and Mario kept his head in the second, then it’s likely City would have come through this tie. With Liverpool also going out, there was little for City to fear in the remainder of this competition.
The greater concern was always the effect it would have on our domestic campaigns. Of course we’re desperate to win a trophy, but the board probably wouldn’t want the Europa League at the expense of a place in the Champions League.
The oft quoted size of our squad has proved illusory as too many fringe players have failed to feature. With a huge game against Chelsea on Sunday, the likes of Boateng, Wright-Phillips, Vieira and Jo should all have been partaking in the Europa League and seeing us through.
If we can overcome fatigue and get a result against Chelsea then the rest of the season looks a lot clearer. With more time on the training pitch, the team will be better prepared than of late. As a result, the sharpness that hasn’t been seen since before Christmas should return.
As for the Europa League: Michel Platini gave it an ‘overhaul’ a couple of years ago which made little difference. The number of games needs to be slashed by doing away with group stages and having clubs with higher Uefa rankings joining later (similar to Premier League clubs joining the FA Cup in the third round).
The competition could then be taken seriously by English clubs without their league placing suffering. In it’s present form the punishing schedule with little financial reward is counter productive for any club seeking to progress to Champions League qualification.