As Manchester City’s utterly miserable Champions League campaign comes to a close against Borussia Dortmund in Germany on Tuesday, the big question that needs asking is just how bothered is Roberto Mancini about the prospect of Europa League football after Christmas?
Mancini has presided over a second successive woeful European effort and the fact that City go into Matchday 6 bottom of their group is nothing short of an embarrassment for all connected with the club, but particularly the Italian manager, who has much to do to convince he will ever be able to cut it right at the top of club management.
With Inter and now City, Mancini has been found wanting in the Champions League and this year’s dismal performance was his worst yet. While accepting that a group containing Real Madrid and Dortmund is not easy, taking one point from two games against Ajax is a terrible return and to go five games without a win is a horrible effort.
You only have to look at what the Spanish and German champions did to Ajax – they both hammered Frank de Boer’s side 4-1 in Amsterdam – to see how much City underachieved and you get the sense that should Mancini be in charge at the Etihad next season, which is far from guaranteed with Pep Guardiola and (seemingly) Jose Mourinho on the market, another bad year in Europe would seal his fate.
But with the Champions League done for another season, do City really care about the Europa League? A win for City in Dortmund would in all likelihood clinch third place in the group with Ajax not likely to win in Madrid, but I’m far from convinced that would be good for City’s season.
Mancini might be making the right noises about wanting to be in the competition – he is not going to do anything else ahead of this game – but does he actually mean it?
I have my doubts. Just ask Brendan Rodgers, Andre Villas-Boas or Alan Pardew about Europe’s second-tier club competition, the Thursday night/Sunday afternoon slog and the effect it has on their teams and I think they would say, at best, it is not ideal and I honestly don’t think that Mancini wants to be in a tournament that could have a detrimental effect on the club’s bid to retain the Premier League title.
But without knowing for sure, City’s trip to Signal Iduna Park is a difficult one to call. City are 12/5 to win their first European match of the campaign, with the draw at 14/5 and Dortmund 19/20, and none of those prices particularly appeal.
City are already without the injured David Silva and suspended Yaya Toure and it is entirely possible that Mancini will make changes bearing in mind what I have already discussed, plus the small matter of the Manchester derby on Sunday, which will be priority number one, two, three and four for City this week.
But having already topped the group courtesy of their superior head-to-head record against Real Madrid, Dortmund don’t need to win either and that makes their odds-on quote of 19/20 on the short side.
Manager Jurgen Klopp could well make changes too as he looks to catch Bayern Munich at the top of the Bundesliga and this is definitely a case where you need to see the team news before staking your bet.
But without that luxury, I think the 14/5 on the draw is my (admittedly small) play. Dortmund have won just two of their last five home games, while City have been very tight at the back over recent weeks, letting in just five goals in their last nine games.
Check the team news and if one line-up looks particularly stronger than the other then it could be worth siding with them, but otherwise the draw draws offers the value call.