Despite the makeshift lineup Mark Hughes had to field in Spain tonight, the lack of quality City demonstrated on the pitch was still shocking. With an opportunity to win Group A of the UEFA Cup hanging in the balance it was appalling to see City come out with so little fight. As it turns out FC Twente was crushed by PSG and City’s late goal eliminated Racing, so City still wins the group.
Ched Evans had a nice early opportunity set up by Robinho but after that Racing Santander dominated the match. In fact it can be strongly argued that the final scoreline tremendously flattered City. Twice in the first half Racing had penalty shouts rejected by the official. Darius Vassell did well in my opinion to clear the ball out of danger in minute 35 and the official was justified to wave play on, but a few minutes late Kasper Schmeichel recklessly came off his line and clearly fouled the Racing attacker. No call was made by the official. Early in the 2nd half Schmeichel again came flying off his line when his defense collapsed but this time Mohamed Tchite missed a wide open net. All of these miscues were costly for Racing as they needed one more goal to qualify for the next stage.
Felipe Caicedo’s stoppage time goal actually not only salvaged some City pride but eliminated Racing from the competition. But from the City perspective this match was another indicator that the quality and depth of the squad is not satisfactory.
Watching this match on American TV was certainly educational. The commentators, Pablo Alsina and Ray Hudson cover La Liga closely covering matches every weekend but hardly if ever have had an occasion to commentate on an English club. It was striking to hear the instant criticism of City as playing desperate and too physically by flinging long balls forward after falling behind and also getting flustered in the process. It’s worth noting that English clubs, despite the recent domination in Champions League have struggled in the second tier UEFA Cup the last several years. The match was dubbed as a sign of the depth of La Liga since Racing is hovering near the drop zone as the winter break begins, but City’s domestic problems were seemingly glossed over.
The announcers also seemed to have a score to settle with Robinho for sulking and leaving Real Madrid. However, the announcers were favorably disposed towards the work rate Ched Evans showed as well as Darius Vassell’s hustle play.
City’s performance by a set of players who should be more eager to impress especially given the club’s terrible league form was disappointing. Particularly poor tonight were Tal Ben-Haim and Elano. Pablo Zabaleta was probably the best City player on the pitch, and perhaps that can help to build his confidence for the critical league matches that are upcoming.
A poor performance coming on the heels of another poor UEFA Cup performance against PSG in the last match and in the middle of a terrible league campaign raises more concerns. But City is on to the knock out stages of the competition and still does have the opportunity to make its mark in Europe this season which is more than the vast majority of top flight British clubs can claim.
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