Over the last several seasons, Spanish teams have usually been the providers of the slick passing type football that the world drools over but tonight in Amsterdam, traditional Dutch masters Ajax served up a clinic to defeat Man City 3-1 and push the English Premier League club to the edge of yet another premature Champions League exit.
Within ten minutes of the start of this match, I could see that this was going to be a difficult night for the Manchester club. Ajax dominated possession but did it in a way that was so pleasing to the eye that it surpassed even that of the Spanish masters, Barcelona. Man City chased shadows around and despite taking the lead after 22 minutes, the Dutch club looked to be composed and in control. Pre-match analysts had speculated that the power and speed of the English club would win the day as had been the case in Ajax’s other two Group games against Borussia Dortmund and Real Madrid. However, this match was different as City manager Roberto Mancini had chosen to play both James Milner and Gareth Barry as part of a very slow and cumbersome midfield.
Anyone that follows my writings will already know about how I feel about Milner and Barry. Slow, trundling and lacking in skill, I tweeted at half time that they were “like fish out of water”. Van Rhijn, Schone and Eriksen ran rings around Man City’s middle players, and even Yaya Toure looked labored. It appeared to be only a matter of time before the inevitable equalizer came. So it proved. Ajax midfielder Sim De Jong blasted one in from 15 yards out just before half time which appeared to be a dagger blow to Man City.
— SoccerLimey (@SoccerLimey) October 24, 2012
At the start of the second half, City looked energetic enough and again, commentators suggested that it would just be a matter of time before power took over. Suddenly, it was 2-1 and then 3-1 to the Dutch club. Game over in our house. Mancini had reverted to the same disastrous formation of only three men at the back, just as in the Dortmund game and in no time at all, his Champions League aspirations were sailing down the river. Before too long, only Joe Hart saved City from trailing 4-1 as their defense was torn to ribbons by the talented Dutch champions. Despite all of the expectations, Ajax controlled the game from start to finish, and City never looked like clawing back their disadvantage.
The type of football that Ajax put out on the field tonight was a treat to watch. Different from Barcelona and the Spanish tiki-taka style, these tactics were more measured and direct. No meaningless short passes but sharp, direct, cutting edge passes that kept the ball moving forward. The Dutch club are world renowned for developing tremendously gifted players, and under the tutelage of ex-players Frank De Boer and Dennis Bergkamp, they have the pedigree on the bench to lead them to success. They are hampered by finances and are regularly forced to sell their best players to survive. Many clubs across Europe have pillaged their talented ranks over the years, but they have a conveyor belt of talent that produces these immensely talented teams.
Contrast that with the English players on view tonight in the Sky Blue shirts. Desperately slow, all three of them, Joleon Lescott, Gareth Barry, and James Milner were substituted out in the second half. I can only hope that England manager Roy Hodgson was paying attention to the performances. Never a match for their quick, agile Dutch opponents, it was apparent that Mancini’s starting eleven was a mistake. Man City now have a tremendously difficult mountain to climb and need to win their final three Group games to have a chance at progressing to the latter stages of the tournament as Borussia Dortmund overcame Real Madrid in Germany to lead the group on seven points. That scenario involves an away win at Borussia Dortmund, and home wins against this Ajax team, and Real Madrid.
A very tall order.