MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 07: Samir Nasri (L) Sergio Aguero and David Silva (R) of Manchester City look on during the UEFA Champions League Group A match between Manchester City and FC Bayern Muenchen at the Etihad Stadium on December 7, 2011 in Manchester, England. (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
No surprise at the ultimate outcome. For City to progress to the knock-out stages was always a big ask given not only did they have to beat Bayern, but rely on Villarreal (with five straight defeats leading into these games) to avoid defeat against Napoli. For a time though there was hope with City getting their noses in front and Napoli being frustrated in Spain, but once Villarreal conceded there was a sense of deflation which became even flatter when Napoli added a second. City now of course drop into the Europa League; an unwanted distraction perhaps, but a competition where they will immediately be installed as one of - if not the - the favourites.
Whilst not qualifying was not a surprise, there is still a sense of frustration attached to the outcome. For all that City were placed in a tough Group, the self-inflicted wounds have been the reason for their failure to progress.Mistakes and naivety in approaching the Group as a whole cost them dear. The games at home and away to Napoli and the trip to Munich saw City take just point. In all games, City fell behind and individual errors contributed to there inability to get more from these games that would have seen them progress. With hindsight too, should City have been as attacking (as well as it has served them in the Premier League) in Munich and at Napoli - the latter in particular where a draw would have seen their fate in their own hands heading into the final round of games. Whilst the squad has plenty of Champions League experience, this was not achieved as a collective and there is no doubt that this seasons competition has been a learning curve (a harsh one at that) for the squad and they will undoubtedly be the better for it come 2012/13.
In finishing on ten points City join a select group of sides in achieving that mark and failing to progress from the Group stages. Prior to City's elimination there have been just four sides who have previously failed to qualify having got to that figure. Whilst there appears to be some misfortune in this, it should not be forgotten that a key reason for this was Villarreal losing all six games, thereby essentially padding the other sides' numbers. What did for City was taking just four points from the four games against Bayern and Napoli.
The game itself feels somewhat secondary, but did show what City are capable of (and what they may have achieved had they in fact progressed). There is a caveat attached that Bayern were under-strength, lifeless and disinterested, but City displayed a patience that was impressive and having got the lead (just the second time) showed little appetite for relinquishing it. It was just the second time City scored the opening goal in the competition and the difference in their play having gotten ahead was stark. One of the surprise selections of the evening was that of Stefan Savic at right-back (with the absence of both Micah Richards and Pablo Zabaleta) but he was a regular feature throughout the evening, particularly from an attacking sense. Both goals were smartly taken and a result of a clear approach from City to attack the space between the central and full back positions and scored by the two players - David Silva and Yaya Toure - who looked to be the most accomplished at this level.
The Europa League it is then. Not the competition that was envisaged when the season commenced and it will be interesting to see the approach taken. To get to the final in Bucharest City will have to navigate extra games and in recent times have not fared well in it. Playing in the Europa League will mean more Sunday fixtures and increased travel (with more Eastern Euorpean sides in the competition than in the Champions League), which will be a drain on the squad at a time when they will be into the second half of the Premier League season. Does Roberto Mancini field a shadow side in the competition or does he set out to win it? The message emanating from the squad this season has been that the Premier League is the holy grail and should Mancini feel European football (as it now is) impinges on this aim then it very likely will be sacrificed.