Alarming that Manchester City are considered England’s biggest force

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Nick Miller was in Turin to see Manchester City falter on the European stage again.

Both before their defeat to Juventus on Wednesday night and after it, a quick glance at the odds for the eventual winners of the Champions League revealed that among the English teams in the competition, Manchester City are currently favourites.

To an extent, this is understandable: Chelsea are in various shades of chaos,Manchester United continued their impressive commitment to avoiding the scoring of goals against PSV, and Arsenal have a tricky task to even qualify for the second phase.

However, it’s still a pretty troubling state of affairs from an English perspective. A few years ago it was rare not to see a team from the Premier League in the final stages of this competition, but in recent years they’ve been lucky to get past the first knockout round. Only two English teams have advanced beyond the last 16 in the last three seasons, and at the moment, depending on the draw of course, you’d have to be quite the gambler or have a lot of faith in the power of the Premier League to put much money on that record improving.

[REPORT: Joe Hart forced off injured as City lose at Juventus]

City are already through to that phase, but they showed little in Turin on Wednesday to suggest that they can make a bigger impression on the tournament than in previous years. They have never advanced beyond the last 16, and while Manuel Pellegrini has made much (with some reason) of them being drawn against Barcelona in the last two seasons, their record for a team constructed at such cost, and with such talent, is desperately disappointing.

Pellegrini said before the game that this game was a ‘test’ for City, a test to see if they could beat the best sides the continent has to offer, but it was one they failed. City were disorganised in defence, pulled apart far too easily in the absence of Vincent Kompany, sometimes overrun in midfield as they struggled to deal with Paul Pogba, and spurned what chances they created in attack. To add to their concerns, Joe Hart limped off with a hamstring injury, possibly related to a previous back problem. It wasn’t the best of evenings in Turin for the boys in garish yellow, all told.

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City’s priority is regaining their Premier League title, but given that they have already won the thing twice and this is their fifth season in the Champions League, making some more progress in this competition is becoming more and more important. The excuse of being drawn against the best teams (which they have) is starting to serve like less as a reason for their elimination, and more a question as to why they aren’t one of those teams, or at least much closer to them, yet.

So how to explain another defeat against a significant opponent? One reason could be injuries, with David Silva and Kompany absent against Juventus, but they still had Sergio Aguero, Yaya Toure and £55million worth of Kevin De Bruyne in their team. Another could be a slight relaxation in their approach, that they were already through and thus didn’t have to worry about qualification.

But another, and probably more concerning thought is that City are flakey, too easily pushed aside and without the mental fortitude to consistently beat the best. It is difficult to speculate too much on things like this, but City’s mentality in big games must be called into question, at least. This season they have lost to Liverpool, Tottenham and now Juventus twice, as well as failing to break Manchester United down. They beat Chelsea 3-0 at the start of the season, but this is not a campaign in which a win over Chelsea can be seen as an indicator of a strong constitution. When half of the other teams the reigning champions have faced were also good enough to beat them, City’s achievement back in August doesn’t look particularly special.

The counter to the argument that they are too weak between the ears is that City have won the domestic title twice in the relatively recent past, and that you don’t do that without some sort of mental fortitude, but something looks like it has changed this season. Few teams are perfect, and most suffer surprising defeats along the way at some point, but City’s fortitude looks more fragile than most, and their flaws easier to exploit.

Juventus Players

City’s lack of consistency is among the biggest concerns. Before the game, Pellegrini highlighted the win over Sevilla as an example of how they should be playing in Europe, but against Juventus the same midfield three – Toure,Fernando and Fernandinho – started, and the remainder of their attack was stronger, with Aguero in for Wilfried Bony and De Bruyne instead of Raheem Sterling. And yet, while the standard of opposition was higher, on this occasion they looked flat and devoid of creativity, whereas before they were sparky and inventive. It of course isn’t as simple as just telling them to do the same as before, but their failure to replicate that performance must be troubling.

This was a Juventus side that played very well without being spectacular, that are among the better sides in the competition but not on the same level as the very finest. Of course, there was less riding on this game because City were already through, but Pellegrini’s side showed little to suggest that they will be able revive the English Champions League challenge. In short, if they can’t beat Juventus, their chances against the likes of Barcelona, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich seem slim.

If City really are Premier League’s best chance in Europe, then the trophy returning to England doesn’t look like the safest bet in the world.

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