If Roberto Mancini isn’t careful, his managerial career is going to see a little bit of history repeating.
References to old Propellerheads songs aside, the Manchester City manager takes his side to Amsterdam on Wednesday to face the Dutch giants of Ajax with more than his team’s continued involvement in this season’s Champions League at stake.
Put simply, Mancini has not delivered as a manager on the biggest stage in European club football with either City or Inter Milan and he cannot allow that to continue for too much longer if he wants to see out his recently signed long-term contract at the Etihad Stadium.
The Italian won three Serie A titles in a row with Inter, but his failures in the Champions League – he has never made it past the quarter-final stage as a boss – were to eventually cost him as the ever-ruthless Massimo Moratti ran out of patience with with the former Sampdoria star’s poor record and replaced him Jose Mourinho in the summer of 2008.
Mourinho went on to claim Europe’s top prize with Inter just two years later, showing up Mancini in the process, and it now looks as though Moratti’s judgement is standing up to scrutiny. City might be the Premier League champions (given their spending power that was inevitably going to happen) but in Europe they have been left floundering.
Last year, the blue half of Manchester were dumped into the Europa League after Bayern Munich and Napoli eliminated them at the group stage and this term, City are in just as much peril. Beaten by Real Madrid and very, very lucky to draw at home to Borussia Dortmund, Mancini’s men have just one point from two games and do not look like a side who are comfortable at the top table of European football.
It makes the upcoming double header with Ajax of vital importance and it is hard to imagine anything other than six points being good enough to get into the knock-out stages. Another failure would be a huge dent to Mancini’s standing and there is only so long he can struggle in Europe, given City’s desire for global domination, before his job becomes under question.
So a trip to the Amsterdam Arena goes into must-win territory and City are 7/10 to do just that. Ajax are at 14/5 and the draw is at 18/5, and you have to think City will do enough here.
The four-times winners may have a European pedigree that City can only dream of, but the Dutch champions are not in the same financial league as many of the teams they now face on the continent and even with a fine and vibrant young team, they should be no match for City.
Ajax have won just three of their last ten Champions League fixtures and have only emerged victorious from two of their six most recent Eredivisie games this season to leave themselves five points adrift of leaders Twente.
Real Madrid made light work of Frank De Boer’s side last time out, winning 4-1 with ease, and City can also secure a win with a few goals.
An away win with over 2.5 goals is 29/20 and represents better value than a straight odds-on poke. Five of the six Man City games played away from the Etihad this season (including the Community Shield in August) have seen at least three goals, partly because the Citizens have kept just one clean sheet all season.
They could concede against an Ajax team who have struck 23 goals in nine league games, but their superior firepower should see them pick up a vital win.