LONDON (Reuters) - Manchester City manager Roberto Mancini is discovering the adage ‘money can’t buy you happiness’ extends to European success after a 2-2 draw at home to Ajax Amsterdam left their Champions League hopes in tatters.
Mancini was left raging at Danish referee Peter Rasmussen, who disallowed Sergio Aguero’s effort and ignored Mario Balotelli’s late penalty appeal but his anger might have been better directed at his team and their defensive lapses.
City’s multi-million pound squad have failed to make an impact in Europe with some erratic performances.
The Premier League champions, roundly criticised when outclassed by Ajax last month, were 2-0 down after 17 minutes at the Etihad Stadium on Tuesday thanks to some dismal defending.
“It is not just (the defending) in this competition but in the Premier League and everything else,” former Liverpool captain Graeme Souness said on Sky Sports.
”Tonight the problem came from set pieces. Last year with Joleon Lescott and Vincent Kompany in the team they looked unbeatable and if anything came into the box one of them was getting their head to it.
“They are a team still scratching for the performances they had last year and they are not there yet,” added Souness.
City are bottom of Group D with two points from their four games, six behind leaders Dortmund.
Mathematically they still have a slim chance of reaching the knockout stage if they beat Real Madrid at home and then win in Dortmund if other results go their way.
On top of City’s suspect defending, the British media has been full of reports of a rift between Mancini and his players as they struggle to grasp the Italian’s tactics.
They were given a lesson in slick passing and application by Ajax in their first meeting two weeks ago as the Dutch side, which cost a fraction of City’s millions, beat them 3-1.
Ajax winger Ryan Babel put that performance down to his side’s togetherness, something he said City lacked.
“Against City in the first game you could see the perfect example of a real team effort by Ajax against a team of individuals,” the former Liverpool player told the Daily Mail earlier this week.
”We noticed how the frustration got the better of them during the game. And we saw how the players were directing those frustrations towards each other. That is the danger of a club with so many big-name players and so many big egos.
“When the going gets tough, they are not prepared to do the hard work for each other.”
That may be undeserved given Tuesday’s fightback as Yaya Toure, at fault for the second Ajax goal, made amends with a crisp volley and the home side upped their game after the break in a desperate attempt to get the win they so badly needed.
Aguero’s equaliser in the 73rd minute preserved City’s 18-match unbeaten European home record but that will be small consolation for the big-spending club as they face an early Champions League exit for the second successive season.
Editing by Ken Ferris