When Manchester City host Real Madrid at the Etihad Stadium in what, despite the home side’s struggles in Europe, is still an explosive clash, just how much will the away manager be eying up the home dug-out?
It is the titillating sub-plot to an already interesting situation and loathe as I am to make everything about the Special One (because Lord knows that’s how he likes it), the slight needle between Jose Mourinho and Roberto Mancini, and the distinct possibility that he could succeed the Italian once more, gives this match an extra bit of intrigue beyond City’s struggle to reach the Champions League knock-out stages.
With Mancini’s European reputation open to question again as he struggles badly with City in this competition, just as he did previously with Inter Milan, then the presence of Mourinho in the opposite dressing room will not go unnoticed.
The shadow of Mourinho has loomed over Mancini ever since the former replaced the latter at Inter and succeeded where the Italian had failed by winning the Champions League, at the same time putting Mancini’s own record into sharp context.
City have won two points from four games in Group D and even when taking into account the difficulty of matches against Real Madrid, Borussia Dortmund and Ajax, that is a terrible return for such an expensively assembled squad of players and to be staring down the barrel after just four games is unacceptable.
I’ve written extensively about Mancini’s failures in Europe, which I shan’t go over again, only to say that I don’t buy into this argument that City need time to learn how to play in the competition, or that inexperience is somehow the reason they are coming up short.
They have players in their squad who have won the thing, as well as multiple domestic titles and even a World Cup winner in David Silva, so the argument just doesn’t cut it with me. When you’ve spent that much money, there are no excuses.
Or to put it another way, if Mourinho was City boss, would they be at the bottom of their qualifying group with two draws and two defeats? We all know the answer to that and it is why Mancini will ultimately fall on his sword if he can’t improve City in Europe – Sheikh Mansour and company won’t continue to put up with such abject failure for much longer.
City do still have a slim chance of reaching the last 16, but it is Victoria Beckham slim and relies on them beating both Madrid and then Dortmund away, and hoping other results go their way.
All they can do is win their games and in spite of what I have said above – and I do think Mancini lacks nous at the top level – I believe they can get a famous result and beat Real Madrid.
Why? Well, part of what tempts me is the price. At 21/10, City are huge, with winnings of £62 on offer for anyone successfully backing them with a free £20 bet after registering with bwin.
I say huge because those odds surely resemble an over-reaction to their poor European form. I certainly think Madrid are too short at 21/20 and I am discounting the draw at 29/10 because it is not really much good to either side.
Any time City are that price at the Etihad you have be getting involved. This is a side that haven’t lost a home match in the Premier League since December 2010 and even in Europe they have proved impossible to penetrate: the Citizens have struggled on the road, but they are unbeaten at the Etihad in the Champions League with two wins and three draws.
Okay, it’s not the greatest record, but it is rare they lose on their own patch and Madrid have been ropey on the road this season. Real have lost four and drawn one of their ten away fixtures and haven’t had the best of runs on their travels in the Champions League.
Los Blancos have won just two of their last five away games in Europe, losing to Bayern Munich and Dortmund while also drawing at CSKA Moscow, and this is just the sort of match that City’s galaxy of stars will be bang up for.
And when you have players as good as City’s, then you shouldn’t be 21/10 to beat anyone in your own stadium, it’s really that simple.
Misgivings about Mancini are less relevant in this match, which has a one-off feel about it because City have nothing to lose.
Madrid are obviously a brilliant side, but they are too short to win at a ground where very few teams get a result and City are well worth a go at that price to keep their fading qualification dreams alive.