Man City don't look good enough to contend for the Champions League
Manchester City are probably going to have to wait to conquer Europe. The project looks a long way off being completed as their continental stutters continue, this time in a 1-1 home draw with AS Roma.
Graduating to Pot 2 of August's draw has been little use; they were handed a far tougher draw than last season and instead of Viktoria Plzen they drew Roma, a coming force to remind of the danger that Serie A sides can always present. With CSKA Moscow the whipping boys and Bayern Munich looking strong, City's destiny almost certainly lies in their final group game: a trip to the Italian capital's Stadio Olimpico.
Just as in the Premier League, it looks as if this competition has begun too early for City. When might they wake from this sleepiness? It is nearly October. Has the unseasonably warm weather have them thinking we are still in preseason? Or were Roma just too slick for them?
Until the latter stages when they pushed on, plainly aware of their plight, City were leaden, lacking in zest and with too many stars below their best. Captain Vincent Kompany stepped out of the back four to let 38-year-old opposite number Francesco Totti ghost through for Roma's equaliser, while Yaya Toure was having another poor evening until belatedly awaking from his slumber. Until then, his passing was awry, the loping runs a memory. Perhaps a damning sign was that Toure actually seemed to be trying hard, but still it was not happening for him.
A question of when Toure gets dropped might soon be asked as the Ivorian's level of performance is not nearly enough. This was a player whose agent wondered aloud this summer why his client was not considered for the Ballon d'Or. At his best, he is unstoppable but at his current modal level, he can be invisible, almost risible. Such a decision to relegate him to the bench would undoubtedly lead to more of the same speculation that he wants to leave the club. Last summer, he openly suggested his interest in playing for PSG.
Manuel Pellegrini was the holistic choice to replace serial Euro-bungler Roberto Mancini -- a manager with experience of taking unfamiliar clubs into the competition's furthest reaches. Yet last season's second round encounter with Barcelona may end up being his high water mark. Roma coach Rudi Garcia had the Chilean's measure, his 4-3-3 holding Pellegrini's seemingly adventurous 4-4-2 at bay.
City's boss is beginning to look inflexible, incapable of the tactical gumption required for this competition. At Villarreal and Malaga, the plan was to hold off the opposition and strike from there. His Mancunian assignment demands that he must play toe-to-toe against Europe's giants but his attacking ideas lack some of the variety and verve for this highest of levels. He could thank a player allowed to leave City on his watch, Maicon, for gifting Sergio Aguero an early penalty. Beyond that, and until a that late surge, rookie goalie Lukasz Skorupski was not asked too much of himself.
A year ago, City were humiliated by Bayern Munich for attempting to go toe-to-toe; Roma were not of the level that Pep Guardiola's team reached last season but by the hour mark, Pellegrini was forced into two changes, an admission that he had got things wrong.
Pellegrini could hardly be recognised for his promotion for indigenous talent but he turned to James Milner and Frank Lampard, an English duo to try and gain control of a midfield battle being lost. At 36, Lampard looked as dangerous as anyone; his anticipation of space is still as artful as anyone, aside perhaps from Totti.
At this early juncture, this was always going to be a key match in Group E. City looked staid, lacking in freshness and were held off by excellent opponents who were well-organised by one of the continent's burgeoning coaches. Garcia could conceivably find himself eyed by City's powerbrokers one day. The whirlwind with which City blew teams away for much of last season was becalmed, as it has been too often in this season. David Silva's late chance in injury time was close, but there had been too few such moments of creation from Pellegrini's team.
Excuses can be reached for: another tough draw, the restrictions of financial fair play that caused a summer of relative parsimony and a World Cup hangover for too many stars. However, a club that has spent beyond a billion pounds should be doing better in this competition by now. Rome in December is already a crucial date in Manchester City's destiny, and perhaps that of Pellegrini, too.
John Brewin is a staff writer for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @JohnBrewinESPN.