x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Manchester City are still learning in Europe

People will say that City should be doing better in Champions League given the cost and size of their squad. They say Roberto Mancini can't manage in Europe, but I don't agree. Teams need time to come together.

Lukasz Piszczek, left, and his Borussia Dortmund teammates were unlucky to leave Manchester with only a point off a 1-1 draw against City in their Champions League match.
Lukasz Piszczek, left, and his Borussia Dortmund teammates were unlucky to leave Manchester with only a point off a 1-1 draw against City in their Champions League match.

When I watch Manchester City in the Champions League, I see a team taking time to adjust to European competition.

That is natural.

It took Manchester United years of close calls and frustration before we finally won the tournament in 1999. Sir Alex Ferguson wasn't a failure each time United did not win the tournament, he was just getting closer to winning it.

City are in an especially tough group this time and they will do well to qualify from it. Some will see that as a failure - not me.

If they have failed to qualify from a Champions League group after five years of trying then it will be failure, but not after two attempts.

The Champions League is the hardest competition to win and standards keep improving. City played an exceptional Borussia Dortmund team on Wednesday and they struggled to dominate like they do in many league games. Had goalkeeper Joe Hart had an off day like so many of his players, City could have easily been beaten 4-0.

People will say that City should be doing better given the cost and size of their squad. They say Roberto Mancini can't manage in Europe, as he didn't do well at Inter Milan, but I don't agree.

Teams need time to come together.

Champions League football is still new to several players and it shows.

Every team tweaks their style of play in Europe because they have to. That takes time to adjust to. Much of City's strength in winning the league was based around a solid four-man defence. That is tweaked in Europe and immediately makes the team less stable. That defence misses Nigel de Jong shielding them, too, as his replacement, Javi Garcia, is more attack-minded.

Others say that the extra travelling takes it out of players. Nonsense. I've been there and done it. Travel is made so easy for top footballers that it's seamless. You need to get to the airport and that's about it.

Everything is taken control of, from your passports to the business-class seats on the plane to a transfer to a nice hotel at the other end. It's almost embarrassingly easy and I can understand why people say footballers are treated like little kids when they travel.

City have been fortunate that teams have not been converting all the chances created against them. Real Madrid missed a lot, as did Dortmund.

If you miss chances in the later stages of the Champions League then you get punished.

I learnt this the hard way when I played in the encounter between United and Real Madrid in April 2000. Things were going well when Jaap Stam flicked on a David Beckham corner. I was three yards from goal and I headed the ball ... over.

I knew how important it was for a team to score an away goal in Europe; Ferguson always told us that away goals turned the tie, but while I was very disappointed to not to score the best chance of the game, we were pleased with a 0-0 draw at the Bernabeu that night. We were confident, too, that we could beat Real back at Old Trafford, but they surprised us by winning 3-2.

They would have gone through on away goals even if I had scored in Real, but one important point remains nonetheless - always take your chances, especially against the best teams.

The 3-2 defeat in Madrid showed how ball retention has become king in Europe. Lose the ball to one of the top teams and they have the players to punish you. That is why the top teams seldom lose the ball.

Barcelona are still the masters of that by a distance.

With one point from six, it is going to be tough for City to qualify, but they will be pinning their hopes on beating Ajax home and away in their next two games.

Mind you, Dortmund will fancy their chances against City at home after playing so well in Manchester.

 

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I attended the Ryder Cup last week at Medinah Club near Chicago and witnessed the greatest golfing comeback in history. It was incredible, especially on the last day when Europe caught up and overtook America.
The atmosphere created by the huge crowds was so boisterous that I couldn’t understand how the golfers concentrated as they pulled their clubs back.
I’m a keen golfer and I’ve been to several tournaments. The atmosphere is usually tranquil and respectful, but not the Ryder Cup. I was fascinated at how the golfers managed to stay cool despite all the noise and USA! chants, but they did stay cool.
Being retired from football allows me to attend events like this, something I’ve always dreamed of. I’m not the only one.
I saw Pep Guardiola at Medinha and we shook hands and said hello. He’s clearly enjoying his break from football and making the most of his year out with his family. I didn’t ask him where and when he was going to back to a whole different ball game.

 

Andrew Cole's column is written with the assistance of European football correspondent Andy Mitten

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