Wednesday, October 21, 2015

SPANISH STEPS

City take a walk into near-virgin territory this week with the first of two games against Sevilla in the Champions League. Although the clubs have met before (a 5-1 win for Sevilla in a 1951-52 friendly), City have never played in this part of the world in a competitive fixture.

In recent years, the club has begun building up an unenviable record against some of Spain's more high profile clubs, being unlucky enough to bump straight into Barcelona in the last 16 for the past two seasons of disappointing Champions League combat. As well as the four games against the Catalans (which threw up a monotone four straight defeats), City have also played Real Madrid with little noticeable success and were also pitched against Villareal twice in the group stages of their inaugural Champions League season in 2011-12.

The Madrid games proved a chastening experience, with City extremely unfortunate at the Bernabeu, having a 2-1 lead turned into defeat in the final minutes of the match. Still, a defeat's a defeat and the Blues only have the solitary home point from a 1-1 draw at the Etihad to show for their games with Real so far. For the fans, who travelled to the Spanish capital, there were the usual squeaks along the way before the seemingly inevitable fate befell us.

The Villareal experience proved a considerably more positive. In a similar situation to now, City played the Spaniards home then away in consecutive Group A games after playing Italian and German opponents in the shape of Napoli and Bayern Munich. As with this week's fixture, Villareal also offered an opportunity to get qualification properly on track after a stuttering start, which had seen City draw their first ever Champions League game with Napoli and then lose in controversial circumstances in Bavaria, on the night Carlos Tevez got his ego caught up in his tracksuit bottoms.

City won the home game by the skin of their teeth, a last minute Sergio Aguero goal (actually timed at the soon-to-be magic 93 minute mark) finally turning a match around that had swung Villareal's way as early as the 4th minute. The second game is still fondly remembered as one of City's best away showings in the competition so far, a 3-0 win hinting at what Roberto Mancini's side might be capable of later in a season that ended in the most dramatic domestic title win in living memory.

A critical defeat in Naples meant both City and Villareal would ultimately miss out on qualification from a difficult group, so the two wins against the Spaniards had not been enough. Two wins against Sevilla almost certainly will suffice this time around.

City's recent record against Spanish sides in the Champions League looks like this then:

P 8 W 2 D 1 L 5
2011-12 CITY 2 Villareal 1  /  Villareal 0 CITY 3
2012-13 Real Madrid 3 CITY 2  /  CITY 1 Real Madrid 1
2013-14 CITY 0 Barcelona 2  /  Barcelona 2 CITY 1
2014-15 CITY 1 Barcelona 2  /  Barcelona 1 CITY 0 
In the only other competitive fixture with a Spanish side in the modern era of regular European qualification, City were placed in a wildly unbalanced looking Europa League group in 2008-09 which would look overburdened with quality if drawn out today. Not the slightest sign of anything from Azerbaijan or Finland here : it featured Schalke, Paris St Germain, FC Twente and Racing Santander. Even back then City were pulling out the plum draws.

The group's uneven format meant City played certain teams at home only and others away only,
Darius Vassell makes vague contact in Santander
leading to another memorable trip for travelling Blues to the northern port of Santander. Sadly the trip will be best remembered for the beach-side hostelries than the football, which City managed to lose with a whimper, the only goal coming from substitute Felipe Caicedo in the 92nd minute.

Caicedo's strike, a thing of some rarity and very little beauty, ended the night's rendition of "he comes from Ecuador, he'll never fucking score" and also put an end to any hopes the locals had had of exiting the group, as PSG's win over Twente the same night put paid to that.

To complete the distinct feelings of imbalance on a strange evening, City's attack was occupied by Robinho and Ched Evans, one of the least likely strike partnerships to grace European football, whilst further back Micah Richards and Tal Ben Haim provided the Keystone Cops defending:
2008-09 Racing Santander 3 CITY 1
To find City's other competitive opponents from Spain in European competition, we have to head back to the only other time the club was considered a major player domestically and abroad. On the way to lifting the 1970 Cup Winners' Cup in Vienna, City beat Athletic Bilbao in the first round. Bilbao, with future West Brom manager Ronnie Allen in charge, were backed by a noisy 45,000 Basque crowd for the first leg. Malcolm Allison, still smarting from the previous season's inglorious exit to Fenerbahçe, after the coach's threats that his City side would run riot across the continent, played seven of the team beaten by the Turks. Only Joe Corrigan, in for Ken Mulhearn, captain Tony Book - who had been injured the previous year - Tommy Booth and Ian Bowyer (replacing Tony Coleman) were new.

With City trailing 0-2 after a quarter of an hour, Neil Young managed to peg one back before half time, only for the home side to reopen a two-goal lead in the 2nd half. Back came City again, with goals from Booth and Luis Etcheberria in his own net to gain a creditable 3-3 draw. Allison was as forthright as usual after the game, saying, "The boys have the needle tonight, because we didn't win. Just wait until we get them to Maine Road. We'll give these Spaniards a roasting..."

Allison's boastful prophesy was to be proved right on this occasion, City running out easy 3-0 winners in a second leg watched by nearly 50,000 at Maine Road, with Colin Bell, Alan Oakes and Ian Bowyer notching the goals. City would go on to beat Lierse, Académica de Coimbra, Schalke 04 and Gornik to lift their only European trophy to date.
1969-70 Athletic Bilbao 3 CITY 3  /  CITY 3 Athletic Bilbao 0
Alan Oakes' shot hits the Bilbao net at Maine Road
Three seasons later saw City's only other competitive game with a Spanish side, this time Valencia in the UEFA Cup. After a 2-2 draw at Maine Road in the first leg, City travelled to the Mestalla. Amongst the intrepid Blues fans was Graham Corless who later wrote in Dave Wallace's book "Us and Them" in the ground we joined a small but very loud band of City supporters who cheered all through the match. I remember Valencia attacking from the off (as they had done at Maine Road in the first leg) with the old Real legend Alfredo di Stefano in charge. They came through 2-1 winners. Rodney Marsh gave us hope but Valencia's pace upfront caused us too many problems...

This was the day that club president Albert Alexander died, providing a sad backdrop to City's early exit from the competition.

1972-73 CITY 2 Valencia 2  /  Valencia 2 CITY 1
There have been a few friendlies against Spanish opposition, listed below, but on the whole, City have managed to avoid this part of the Iberian peninsular with some success. When they did make it to Spain, it was almost always to return with their tales between their legs. Of particular interest on this front was the brutal Christmas friendly with Real in 1979 when City received few presents bar the five goals and two red cards dished in their direction. More recently, Real also took City to the cleaners in the last pre-season, when a scratch City side faced the all-whites (in off grey) in a match that turned into a Cristiano Ronaldo exhibition match, straight legged goal look at me celebrations and all.

Friendly results against Spanish opposition: 
1951-52 Sevilla  a 1 5
Barcelona  a 1 5
Real Zaragoza a 3 1
1956-57 Lloret de Mar a 9 0
Barcelona  a 2 3
1974-75 Barcelona a a 2 3
1976-77 Real Betis  a 1 1
1979-80 Real Madrid  a 2 5
1980-81  Real Betis  a 1 3
1986-87 Malaga a 3 0 Tourneio Int. Costa del Sol
Real Betis  a 0 0 Tourneio Int. Costa del Sol
Valencia a 0 2
Huelva a 2 2 Colombino Tourneio
Barcelona a 1 1 Colombino Tourneio
1990-91  Real Sociedad a 1 1 Tourneio Int. Real Sociedad
2002-03  Barcelona  h 2 1 Inaugural City of Manchester Stadium match
2007-08 Valencia h 0 1 Thomas Cook Trophy
2009-10 Barcelona  a 1 0 Juan Gamper Trophy
2010-11 Valencia h 2 0 Thomas Cook Trophy





2015-16   Real Madrid        Aus          1    4
 * full record and description of all games v Barcelona can be read here 
** full story of the controversial game with Real Madrid in 1979 can be accessed here

The view from the visitors' section at the Bernabeu 2012-13

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