As Fernando Torres wheeled away in celebration, much to the delight of the 40,000 Chelsea fans packed inside Stamford Bridge on Sunday, the spotlight once again beamed brightly onto Manchester City goalkeeper Joe Hart.
Whilst the majority of the City team looked to the sky in despair, Pablo Zabaleta, the marauding right-back, sank to his knees distraught at the drama he had just witnessed. As Hart stormed to his goal line to retrieve the ball from the net, the anger etched on his face was plain to see. “Keeper’s, f****** keeper’s,” he could be seen saying. A call his defender Matija Nastasic clearly had not heard…
If ever there were to be a prize awarded to a club for “doing things the hard way” it would almost inevitably be handed to soap-opera club Manchester City.
They are a side that leave it until the last five minutes to take a play-off final to extra time and then penalties. They are a side that leave it until the last three minutes of the season to clinch their first ever Premier League title.
They are Manchester City, and they do it the hard way.
Defeat in the final minutes to Real Madrid at the Bernabeu and defeat at the Amsterdam ArenA – the home of Dutch champions Ajax – has left Manchester City with an almost impossible task of qualifying for the second round of the Champions League. Manager Roberto Mancini has described their plight as in dire need of a ‘miracle’. Manchester City are in the mire, and they only have themselves to blame.
Expectations have soared to a whole new level following Sergio Aguero’s last gasp winner against QPR last season that sent Manchester City fans into absolute ecstasy. They were going to spend further in the summer, strengthen a squad that was already brimming with talent and steamroll their way to the top like the juggernaut they want to become.
Reality struck. Financial Fair Play rules – whether they will ever be introduced or not is a different debate – prevented City from splashing the Sheikh’s cash on the “top names” Mancini wanted. The likes of Daniele De Rossi opted to stay at Roma, rather than join City. Things didn’t go exactly as Mancini wanted, leaving him frustrated.
Despite a subdued transfer window, City remain unbeaten in the Premier League but even whilst it is not their main priority this season, their Champions League form has been particularly woeful.
It is testament to the quality of their opposition in the Champions League that Joe Hart has been the Blues’ best player over the three games played. The England international has established himself as one of the very best around over the course of the campaign and his sensational form has kept City alive in the competition.
Against Real Madrid, City put up a good effort. Taking the lead twice and relying on Hart they were doing well until a tactical change saw them change to three at the back. It was a change that played into the hands of Madrid, allowing them to push on and win the game. Cristiano Ronaldo exploited the space and the rest, as they say, is history.
At the Etihad Stadium, there was optimism. After all, City had gone to the Bernabeu and were five minutes away from getting a famous result. The Blues would surely be able to rise to the challenge of Borussia Dortmund. They weren’t.
Having taken a point from their three games so far in the group stages, City are clinging on by the skin of their teeth. They’re in that position because they deserve to be there. The performances haven’t been good enough to qualify for the second round. Their performances haven’t even been good enough for them to be worthy of qualifying for the Europa League. And the only man you sympathise with is Hart, because if there is one player deserving to go further on in the competition it is him. Nobody else has performed.
Three wins from three could see them claw their way through. It’s unlikely, but if any club can do it you’d put your money on it being City.