Europe cuts Man City`s grand ideas down to size

Last Updated: Nov 24, 2011, 00:04 AM IST

Manchester: Manchester City`s shiny veneer of invincible domestic form has been scraped off in Europe to leave manager Roberto Mancini giving his team of big-money signings only a 30 percent chance of reaching the Champions League knockout stages.

A nine-match unbeaten run and the confidence that comes with that counted for nothing on Tuesday when they conceded two "stupid" goals to lose 2-1 at Napoli as the debutants learned they really should not try to run before they can walk.

Aiming to qualify from the group at the first time of asking would be a bold move for any team but in City`s case it had looked a reasonable target given their stunning start to the Premier League campaign and huge outlay on quality players.

To stay in the continent`s elite club competition they need to beat Group C winners Bayern Munich in their final game at home next month, while also hoping Napoli do not defeat already eliminated Villarreal.

"I give 70 percent chance to Napoli and 30 percent chance to us," was Mancini`s frank and possibly optimistic assessment of the situation given Villarreal have yet to pick up a point.

"We should still believe because it is my opinion that Villarreal can get a result against Napoli."

More likely than not, the world`s richest club will finish third and drop into the Europa League, reminding them that a club aiming to win its first English top-flight title since 1968 still has some way to go before it can party with the big boys.

STAGE FRIGHT

While City have been running riot in the English league, scoring at will and making easy work of even the most formidable defences, they have suffered stage fright in Europe.

A 1-1 draw at home to Napoli in their group opener was put down to first night nerves as they had plenty of chances, while their 2-0 defeat at Bayern in the next match was dominated by the Carlos Tevez debacle when he refused to warm-up.

They appeared to have got themselves back on track with successive wins over Villarreal before unravelling at Napoli, also first-timers and with a considerably smaller budget.

Mancini`s men enjoyed plenty of possession in Naples and had their chances but defensively they looked vulnerable against their fired-up opponents.

Conceding soft goals has been something of a problem in the Premier League -- Newcastle United`s 89th minute consolation on Saturday being a case in point -- but a goal machine that has scored 42 in 12 domestic league games has masked the issue.

Against the continent`s best, that weakness has been exposed with City conceding six times in five games and this time playmaker David Silva`s tricky passes and Mario Balotelli`s eye for goal have not been able to dig them out of a hole.

"We conceded two stupid goals because we knew (Edinson) Cavani likes the near post and for the second he had far too much room, so we didn`t help ourselves in that respect," Mancini said of the Italian team`s double goalscorer.

"I don`t think we deserved to lose this game, but at the same time, it is impossible for us to go and score three or four goals every game.

"We have one more game and everything is possible in football -- as long as we believe in ourselves and that anything can happen. I think Villarreal will get a result against Napoli and then the rest is up to us."

Bureau Report