How can Manchester City catch up to Bayern Munich?

Julian Finney

Bayern Munich's demolition of Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium on Wednesday night showed the gulf between the two clubs, but what can City do to bridge the gap?

There's always been something inherently odd about fans applauding the opposition off the pitch. For a virtuoso performance by an individual, perhaps it's permissable. Or a narrow defeat at the end of a thrilling blockbuster of a game. For a solid thrashing, however, where your own side are utterly abject, it leaves an odd taste in the mouth. It seems more like a get-out than a genuine show of respect, a sheepish "they were exceptional, nothing we could do." It's no surprise that the more romantic, sanctimonious clubs - Celtic, Liverpool - are the ones that tend to go in for it. To their ranks we can now add Manchester City.

Booing your own team off is far more honest and acceptable, by contrast. But then, maybe Manchester City weren't that bad at all. After all, they might have nicked it on another day, according to the club's Twitter account. Outside that universe, however, it was plain that City were as poor as they have been in European competition for the past two years. Bayern were good, but they didn't have to be outstanding. They shut City down with remarkable ease with their pressing, and after two years of rebuilding and millions spent, the Mancunians appear no closer to bridging the gap between themselves and the continental elite.

Their close rivals, Manchester United, recently reacted with bemusement after David Moyes stated that the club lacked the "five or six world class players" necessary to win the league, so it's worth starting there. Of players capable of making a game-changing intervention, the club possesses Vincent Kompany, David Silva, Sergio Aguero, Yaya Toure... and that's about it. After a slightly shaky year, Kompany appears to have set his standards high, while Silva and Aguero continue to be hugely influential, and Toure, while inconsistent, is also a big-game player most of the time.

Despite the nice spread of those four, it's not proven to be enough. The team still lacks cohesion, or an identifiable unit which can be put to good use. Against Bayern, their defence struggled to hold firm for long enough to allow Bayern's pressure to dissipate without a goal. Their midfield struggled to either obtain or maintain possession. And until enjoying a man advantage, their attack was unable to craft any real chances with the little of the ball they saw.

Toure is perhaps symbolic of City's wider problems. He's often characterised as an unstoppable, monstrous player, which is correct, but only in patches. "Inconsistency" doesn't quite sum him up - he's inconsistent from minute to minute, rather than from game to game. He is capable of marauding through the centre, crushing defenders underfoot and powering shots into the corner. The problem is that he all too rarely makes use of his attributes to do the real legwork of a game - he can always score or create from nothing, but he's increasingly unable to take control of a match.

The same goes for too many others in the team. Fernandinho is similar, while the likes of Silva and Jesus Navas can too quickly drift in and out of matches. Their problem bears a resemblance to Real Madrid's in recent years, particularly pre-José Mourinho but also during his reign too. Firstly, they don't have the level of cohesion and tesselation necessary to reliably attack or defend while making use of possession. They can either attack, or keep the ball - not both. And secondly, their squad is ill-suited to pulling off the sort of masterplans Mourinho and Ferguson excelled at, where discipline and tactical awareness allowed them to win games while seeing little of the ball.

Improving either of those will be essential if City are to reliably take the step up. Almost never has a team at such a high level had such a gulf in performance between domestic and European competition. It might take yet another spending spree to figure it out, but it needs to be with a radically different purpose. There were very few holes to be plugged in City's team in the summer from a point of view of being able to go forwards and dominate teams and score goals. But the less glamorous tools of the European trade - the safe and steady passer, the defensive, tactically-aware winger - are absent. Bayern are an exceptional side, but they have Javi Martinez and Philipp Lahm to do their dirty work. City simply have no equivalent.

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