Manchester City v Borussia Dortmund, 7.45pm
3 October ~ It is unlikely that many tears will be shed for Manchester City in their quest for European domination, but for the second year on the run they have been placed in a very tough Champions League qualifying group. Last year's match-up with Bayern Munich, a then red-hot Napoli and Villarreal saw City complete their fixtures with a creditable ten points, normally enough to ensure progress. However, sub-standard performances in away defeats in Germany and Italy highlighted that City were far from the finished article and they had no real complaints as they missed the cut and traipsed miserably to the Europa League.
Most City fans believed that the confidence boost of a hard-fought Premier League win and a pre-season of prudent squad additions might galvanise the team into more meaningful action in the new CL campaign. However, when drawn with the champions of Spain, Germany and Holland, the trepidation of the Eastlands faithful was understandably apparent. An opening-night disappointment in the Bernabeu, where City were rather fortunate to escape with only a 3-2 defeat, did nothing to suggest that lessons had been learned from last year.
Manager Roberto Mancini hardly covered himself in glory in Madrid, either: the inclusion of a weary looking Maicon (still suffering from Gareth Bale flashbacks) at full-back was never going to achieve the desired effect of reducing Cristiano Ronaldo’s impact, while the risk of bringing in the debutant teenager Matija Nastasic was highlighted late in the game as he visibly tired and Karim Benzema took advantage.
Indeed, City have made a sluggish start to the season both domestically and in Europe. Wins at home to Southampton and QPR were a little less comfortable than might have been expected and a vibrant Arsenal came to the Etihad Stadium and displayed a spark that City were patently lacking. Two uninspiring away draws at Liverpool and Stoke were followed by Saturday’s fine win at Fulham, where a little of last season’s verve seemed to reappear. Mancini recalled some of last year’s boldness, too, in bringing off two holding midfielders and replacing them with attacking players late in the game and not settling for a draw.
If City have perked up a bit, so too have tonight’s opponents Borussia Dortmund. Despite a mass of transfer rumours over the summer Shinji Kagawa was the only high-profile departure from the all-conquering squad of 2011-12, and this was more than offset by the arrival of the highly rated German international Marco Reus. Although currently trailing a rampant Bayern Munich in their attempt to rack up a hat-trick of Bundesliga titles, Dortmund kick-started their season with an impressive five-goal thrashing of Borussia Monchengladbach on Saturday, with the lively Reus scoring twice.
With both teams buoyed by a good weekend’s work, and with a host of attacking quality on show, this match could be well worth watching. It could also go some way to deciding who joins Real Madrid in the knock-out stages. Tony Curran