If Manchester City’s debut adventure in the Champion’s League is to at least meet expectation and extend beyond the group stages they face a two-pronged battle this evening, one of which takes place in a foreign field frustratingly out of their control. Their task is already onerous enough requiring a victory – and a victory only – against a resplendent Bayern side who top the Bundesliga and remain unbeaten in Europe. To then have to rely on a Villarreal side who have been pointless in every sense in Group A to dredge up a result from somewhere against a fiery Napoli outfit with progress firmly in their sights makes the challenge a truly Sisyphean affair.
With this in mind the tunes have already been chosen for tonight’s journey up to the Etihad. There will be plenty of Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, a single airing of Against All Odds and, as the stadium hones into view, a full-volume blast of Livin’ On A Prayer. It’s tough. So tough.
Should the unlikely venture fail and qualification be denied us the car will be filled with the comforting strains of Karen Carpenter all the way back down the motorway. We’ve Only Just Begun.
I’m not usually one to seek solace in omens but it’s certainly true to say that some of the greatest nights for British club football in Europe have been at the hands of the mighty Bavarians. Everton in ’85, Norwich in ’93 and some encounter or other in Barcelona. If City are to pull this one off they must make it a memorable encounter of a similar scale and to this end the supporters are more than prepared to play their part. A sell-out party is planned, replete with inflatables, flags, scarves, and confetti all designed to rouse up an atmosphere to rival the festival of passion that so rattled Hamburg a few seasons back. I only hope that amidst the blue smoke and thunder all eyes are fixed securely on Ribery and co with minimum distraction from what is occurring in Spain. City can only determine one half of tonight’s outcome and, with no tactical considerations dependant on the outcome over there; the rest should be left to the hands of fate and a possible rare off-night for Cavani.
Mueller and Gomez are doubts. They still have Ribery though, with his face like a grounded Messerschmitt ace and his feet of magic.
Beating Bayern is a formidable ask in itself and will require every sinew of effort and sliver of luck available even if they are ravaged by a fortuitously timed flu virus at present. Granted they would have presumably fielded a weakened side regardless having already guaranteed top spot but to have the absentees enforced, not chosen, is a considerable bonus. Robben and Kloos have stayed back in Germany to take their medicine while Mueller and Gomez are doubts. They still have Ribery though, with his face like a grounded Messerschmitt ace and his feet of magic.
They also have, despite their insurmountable thirteen points, an inbuilt Germanic resistance to the notion of defeat.
Whilst we’re dealing in stereotype the Bayern hierarchy have been sounding off yet again about City with the main shit-stirrer predictably being chief-executive Karl-Heinze Rummenigge. His sustained sniping at a club that has never retaliated is now bordering on obsession and it has even prompted the eternally unruffled Bobby Manc to seek out a personal confrontation after tonight’s encounter. In September Munich may have took City back to school on the pitch but they really do need some lessons in class off it.
It all adds further fuel to the fire and additionally – as if progressing to the knock out rounds isn’t incentive enough – there is also the avoidance of parachuting into the Europa League to consider. Name me one top side that actually wants to be in that bloody thing? It is an ugly, demanding mistress that entails a raft of Thursday night games that seriously hinders other pursuits, namely City’s title bid. Pushing domestic fixtures back to Sundays will often mean United get first dibs on points once the race hots up after Christmas. All so City’s peripheral players can get knocked out by a handy Portuguese side in March.
The ‘consolation’ of entering the Europa Cup should City fail to pull off the miracle tonight is akin to getting dumped by a glamorous blonde and immediately forced to date a stalker with acne.
And before anyone accuses me of arrogance on a Rummenigge level – a City fan who has prematurely forgotten his humble roots – can I just point out that I have always detested the competition long before City were even eligible for it. In my view it carries the same amount of weight as the singer who will comfort me on my journey home should Bayern spoil tonight’s party.