MUNICH, GERMANY - SEPTEMBER 27: Franck Ribery (L) of Muenchen is challenged by Micah Richards of Manchester during the UEFA Champions League group A match between FC Bayern Muenchen and Manchester City at Allianz Arena on September 27, 2011 in Munich, Germany. (Photo by Alex Grimm/Bongarts/Getty Images)
Manchester City need a win against Bayern Munich as well as a little help from Villarreal against Napoli to escape UEFA Champions League Group A.
This game probably won't matter, but if it does, Manchester City have a lot of work to do. Following a 2-1 defeat at the Stadio San Paolo which instantly assumed legendary status for the people of Naples, City find their fate out of their hands. Beating group leaders Bayern Munich - the very same bunch that dished out a 2-0 spanking when last the two sides met - isn't going to be enough. They'll also have to hope that, somehow, Villarreal managed to hold Napoli in Spain. It's not going to be easy, but hey, easy is boring.
Leaving aside the Yellow Submarine's chances of miraculously downing Edinson Cavani, Marek Hamsik and company aside, do City have any hope of beating the Bundesliga leaders? After all, they were dismantled so thoroughly at the Allianz Arena that Carlos Tevez was too scared to come onto the pitch as a substitute. Why should it be any different now?
In four words: Bastian Schweinsteiger's broken collarbone.
Since the Bayern midfielder's injury, the Germans' collective form has gone from 'possible Champions League winners' to 'well they're probably going to lose to Borussia Dortmund again aren't they?' It's amazing to see what happens to a team once their most important central player is removed, and there's a certain drive that's been completely absent in their last few games, which has seen a once-commanding league at the top of the table reduced to a rather precarious position.
And, of course, Manchester City are really doing quite well in the Premier League, looking on course to win their first title since the the Permian Extinction, and their league position is hardly a mirage. They have the best squad in the league, and dropped just four points all season, and should really be performing far better in Europe than they actually are. Despite the reverses in Naples and Munich, they're good enough to win this match.
Of course, Bayern are also good enough to win, and although they're already through to the knockout rounds as group leaders, you'd have to imagine that denying everyone's favourite nouveau riche boogeyman passage out of the group stages will be enough motivation to field a strong team. Even without Schweinsteiger, they're a threat. Mario Gomez is one of the most prolific strikers in Europe. Thomas Muller and Toni Kroos are both geniuses. Manuel Neuer is one of the best goalkeepers going right now. It's not going to be an easy match for City, who've struggled in both previous European home ties.
The pressure, however, is all on Roberto Mancini, and he'll need to field his strongest lineup for this one. City have been doing a bit of a juggling act with their league and European matches so far this season, but with a win necessary even if Napoli do drop points at Villarreal, he's going to have to go with his strongest possible lineup here. That means no more messing about with the likes of Aleksandar Kolarov, for example, and if Nigel de Jong is dropped in favour of a James Milner-Gareth Barry holding duo fans would do well to be upset.
Right now, it's a bit of a toss-up. City don't have much chance of making it out. But stranger things have happened and getting to the knockout rounds would be all the sweeter for the setbacks - so long as they actually manage it.