Man City struggle again in Europe
MAN CITY 1
(Sergio Aguero 4-pen)
(Francesco Totti 23)
On every level, this was a miserable European night for Manchester City.
The result was one thing, a 1-1 draw yesterday morning (Singapore time) with an excellent Roma outfit who would be a challenge for anyone.
The performance was another, even manager Manuel Pellegrini admitted that his team "didn't play well".
But, more than that, the atmosphere was flat and there were thousands of empty seats.
On the TV gantry, pundit Paul Scholes wondered aloud if the City fans knew how lucky they were to be in the Champions League. His former Manchester United team mate Rio Ferdinand asked Twitter why the club were so intent on expanding the stadium - "For who though???" he remarked.
City's supporters countered with the entirely valid point that Champions League tickets are not included in the price of their season tickets. For all the gentrification in some parts of Greater Manchester, it's still not as affluent as London.
Others admitted that this is not a competition that has captured the imagination, possibly due to City's repeated failures in the group stage.
After this result, it seems another failure may be on the cards. Group E looks far worse than it is, with City stuck in third on a single point, five adrift of leaders Bayern Munich, but still to play CSKA Moscow.
Those two games will determine whether City have a chance of progression or not. Two wins, home and away, will give them a chance. One slip-up will almost certainly condemn them to the Europa League.
Only City could land fourth-seeded opponents as accomplished as Roma. While Liverpool had Ludogorets, Chelsea had Maribor and Arsenal had Anderlecht, poor City ended up with the golden boys of Serie A.
Rudi Garcia's side have strength in all departments. There was pace from the effervescent Gervinho, technique from Radja Nainggolan and timeless class from Francesco Totti.
You would think that Totti's importance to the cause at the age of 38 would be as a figurehead, a spiritual leader of sorts. Instead, Garcia has given his mercurial star a new lease of life in a withdrawn striking role.
Totti is impossible to mark, can carve open the defence with a single touch and, as City found to their cost, is nerveless in front of goal.
It was Nainggolan who split the defence with a perfect through-ball, one that caught Joe Hart by surprise. The England goalkeeper slipped over, but was quickly back to his feet as Totti thundered in on goal.
But Totti was entirely unaffected by Hart's advance and simply lobbed the ball over his head and into the back of the net. It was a glorious finish and it immediately cancelled out Sergio Aguero's fourth-minute penalty, awarded when Kostas Manolas foolishly tugged him to the ground in the box.
But, while City might have used that goal as a springboard, it was as good as their night got.
The next 86 minutes saw a series of one-dimensional attacks, the majority of which broke down in the final third. With a quiet crowd and a sluggish style, City were never able to rouse themselves.
Their best chances came with the introduction of another timeless icon, Frank Lampard. But the former Chelsea man was unable to make the breakthrough.
City will retire now to lick their wounds and prepare for a tricky trip to Villa Park.
They have won just two of their last seven games in all competitions and one of those was against lower-league outfit Sheffield Wednesday.
This has not been the start to the campaign that Pellegrini would have wanted. Above Pellegrini, there will be other gloomy conversations.
The owners invested hundreds of millions to turn this team into an elite European outfit, well funded and well backed. So far they have had as much success selling tickets for it as they have winning it.
On all levels, perhaps a re-think is required.
"In the Champions League, the level is different. We play against big teams from other countries who have a lot of technical players and our team have to learn to play a different way. "
— Man City midfielder Fernandinho
Totti becomes competition's oldest scorer
Roma's talismanic striker Francesco Totti became the Champions League's oldest scorer when he netted in his side's 1-1 draw with Group E rivals Manchester City yesterday morning (Singapore time).
The former Italy international, who turned 38 last Saturday, raced through to chip over City goalkeeper Joe Hart from teammate Radja Nainggolan's pass in the 23rd minute, after Sergio Aguero's penalty had given the hosts the lead.
Totti takes the record from former Manchester United midfielder Ryan Giggs, who was aged 37 and 289 days when he scored in a 1-1 draw away to Benfica in September 2011.
"When you talk about Totti, you can only say really banal things (in comparison with what he does)," said Roma coach Rudi Garcia (above).
"I took great pleasure from his goal today. His talent is what made the difference in front of the goalkeeper. I hope it's the start of a fantastic story for Roma."
Totti said: "It really wasn't something I was thinking of when I was on the pitch.
"Records arrive thanks to the help of your teammates and what really matters is the result of the team.
"My main focus is on the team and not on myself."
Totti also thanked Man City for giving him extra motivation to score at the Etihad Stadium.
The striker was reminded through City's official Twitter account hours before kick-off that he had never scored in England.
The City tweet read: "We're looking forward to hosting you @OfficialASRoma, and a legendary player such as Totti. He's never scored in England, has he? #CityvRoma."
Totti had the last laugh, though, and he said: "City's tweet? It really brought me luck. It was a beautiful goal and a good performance.
"I really wanted to score as soon as possible as I had not found the back of the net this season.
"But above all, I am thrilled for my team because we have shown a lot of strength, which was not easy.
"After the group was drawn, few people gave us any hope of doing well. But we have proved that we can play against any team.
"We have shown we are strong and competitive and we fear no one." - Wire Services.