It was another game, another night, another disappointment for Manchester City in the Champions League this season. Falling 6-5 to Real Madrid with one foot already in the final hurts so much. But at this point it has become pretty much deja vu.
It’s becoming a norm. But one that is difficult to get used to. How do you get used to always coming up short? It happened against Monaco, Tottenham, Lyon and now Real Madrid in the last several years.
Even the loss in the final against Chelsea last term was a shocker.
Arguably, the best football playing team in the world for the last several years has not been able to make it count at most crucial moments in the UCL.
The consistency in dramatic losses by the odd goal or away goals’ rule at crucial stages has been unacceptable. Not when everyone knows the better team in the contest. Not when Man City have been the clear favorites against such opposition.
Not when the players have squandered begging chances that were easier to score than miss. Raheem Sterling’s incredible miss against Lyon comes to mind. Sergio Aguero’s penalty miss away at Tottenham too.
And then there’s the inexplicable last minute goals conceded.
Typical City! May be the answer for some.
But the domestic success of the last decade proves otherwise. City have left that past behind. The new Manchester City is a European heavyweight that is one of the firm favourites to win the biggest prize in club football season after season.
Having top quality players and arguably the best managers in the game both in the boardroom and the dugout means there’s a lot that can be achieved. Domestic success in the last decade is enough proof of that.
But something has to change for the team to finally break the duck on the continent. The manner of the losses in crucial stages in the Champions League against Monaco, Tottenham, Lyon and more recently Real Madrid shows that there’s something that needs to change in the team's mentality.
There is need for some form of dark arts which have been very instrumental to Brazil being the most successful team in world football.
City have never exited the Champions League for failing to score goals. They always score goals. But a team can only score so much. When you score 4 goals against Tottenham or five goals against both Monaco and Real Madrid and still end up getting knocked out, then it’s not just a question of scoring.
You need to be able to prevent your opponent from getting that extra goal. You need to be able to close your back door.
Against Madrid in particular, City had a two-goal advantage as at the 89th minute. In fact, as at the 90th minute of the game. At that point, there was no reason for Manchester City to allow the game to continue to flow freely.
Real Madrid won’t do it. Bayern Munich won’t do it. Liverpool or Manchester United will not do it. Even Barcelona will not do it.
Atletico Madrid gave City a perfect opportunity to practice for what was to come or what should have been done against their rivals Real Madrid.
With a two-goal advantage in the 90th minute of a Champions League semi-final, City needed to have stopped Madrid from playing. Full stop.
It was supposed to have become a stop-start game lacking any free flow. That is what Brazil, Germany, Italy, name them, would have done in the semi-final of the World Cup where they had the advantage to qualify for the final.
City need to, therefore, learn from the most successful teams in world football. Winning is not just about playing nice; it is also about stopping your opponent from playing when you need to.
Manchester City have just been too honest in Europe and that is costing the club the title. A lesson from Real Madrid's playbook of not only doing a good job in front of goal but also doing one at the back will really help.
The Brazilian and Italian national teams' crucial matches at the World Cup ahead of winning the trophy will also make for good viewing for the players especially when preparing for crucial games in the Champions League.
To be the best, you have to learn from the best.