City's defending will have dismayed Roberto Mancini – and his star players yet again failed to perform in the Champions League
After four attempts City's clean sheet return in this season's Champions League campaign remains nil. Roberto Mancini's gang have tightened up domestically but, in the sport's elite club competition, sloppy goals are killers, especially early ones at home when a victory is desperately required. Here it took just 10 minutes for Siem de Jong's opener to arrive and for an Italian manager the manner of this and the visiting captain's second was pretty sickening. Ajax were virtually out-manned two-to-one in the area when the contest's opening corner was floated in from the right and Niklas Moisander could touch the ball on to De Jong, who finished from close range. His second was even more lax from the home side: Christian Eriksen's corner was delivered from the left and Yaya Touré, unforgivably, allowed De Jong to wander away unmarked before he glanced a free header beyond a helpless Joe Hart.
A damning impression of this City performance was that it was reminiscent of the England side on their lost nights. Where a regal authority in performance might be expected of the domestic champions, instead the Blues offered a kind of frantic desperation pocked by clumsy first touches, errant passes and absent defending that had them chasing the game – and their survival – before even 20 minutes had been played. Despite a long list of injuries David Silva was the only major absentee as Joleon Lescott would have missed out anyway because of his part in the 3-1 debacle in the Netherlands a fortnight ago. This meant that the XI Mancini could send out was close to his strongest side, in a familiar 4-2-3-1. The problem was that the tempo, composure and zip of last season that have been missing thus far this term were again absent.
Before this outing the only forward of the Blues vaunted gang-of-four to score in this competition from open play was Edin Dzeko, in the opening 3-2 defeat at Real Madrid. The spurning of chances in front of goal has been a recurring complaint from the manager. Of the dour 0-0 draw at West Ham United last time out Mancini wrote in his pre-game notes: "We had 65% possession and, I think, 22 shots. This is a lot of shots without scoring a goal! We continue to miss a lot of chances every game, but sooner or later these chances will start to go in and we will score goals frequently as we did last season when we won the title." From a strike force that also numbers Carlos Tevez and Sergio Agüero, until Agüero's equaliser a Mario Balotelli penalty was the sole other return in Europe, which is hardly good enough, and, when Tevez was replaced by Dzeko after 65 minutes, here was further evidence of Mancini's continuing disappointment in this department.
This was an evening for City's outfield big guns to finally fire. Only sporadically and never as a unit have City's alpha performers illustrated this term how last season they powered the club to a first championship in 44 years. On Tuesday night, with the big six missing the injured Silva, the remaining quintet of Vincent Kompany, Samir Nasri, Tevez, Yaya Touré, and Agüero, began either poorly or anonymously. Kompany produced an early mistake that allowed Ajax to get in behind and hand them an initiative Frank De Boer's men harnessed so productively. There were further mistakes from the Belgian, while Touré first gave possession to Lasse Schone near the halfway line, then was culpable for Ajax's second. Later there were goals from the Ivorian and Agüero but, overall, this was another disjointed display from a band who should be taking apart an opposition as young and callow as this Ajax side.
City's hopes hung by the finest of gossamers after the visiting side's second on just 17 minutes which had Mancini's face stunned to a frozen rictus as he took in that, yes, yet again, this was happening to him and his men under the European lights. Before, Mancini had written in his programme notes: "What is most encouraging is that our form here at home is still very strong. We have not lost a game here in almost two years and have not lost at home in European competition, either, while I have been manager." With less than four minutes remaining, Borussia Dortmund were beating Real Madrid 2-1 and Dzeko had the chance to give City the lead for the first time and finally lift them off the bottom of Group D. But the Bosnian missed, then Madrid equalised as the hope, like this year's tilt at the Champions League, all but died.