The new Manchester City manager experienced a chastening evening at the hands of his former dug-out opponent from the Spanish league
Had that manager been Pep Guardiola, perhaps, Bayern Munich might not have delivered a Champions League masterclass and City might not be reflecting on another abject evening in Europe.
Manuel Pellegrini is no dugout novice and his CV bears close scrutiny. But he was made to look like a teaching assistant taking on an Oxbridge professor in his specialist subject.
How Txiki Begiristain and Ferran Soriano, the ex-Barcelona men who run the show at City, must privately lament their failure to coax Guardiola to Manchester earlier this year.
From their directors’ box vantage point, they were given compelling evidence that the Catalan’s almost mystical coaching powers appear to have been enhanced by his 12-month sabbatical in New York.
Guardiola was fortunate enough to inherit a treble-winning team, but, if anything, Bayern looks even more formidable now than during that memorable Wembley evening in May when it lifted the Champions League trophy.
The Spaniard’s new team was quite brilliant here. Only a considerable dose of good fortune in the home side’s favor stopped the visitors scoring a first-half hatful that their relentless pressing and attacking majesty deserved.
Once Bayern sharpened its cutting edge after the break, it looked like scoring every time the red shirts swarmed towards Joe Hart’s goal. Indeed, given the glory of its play, three goals felt like almost meager reward.
Everywhere you looked, until the final 20 minutes when Guardiola rested his key players ahead of future engagements, was a Bayern player operating on a different level to his direct opponent.
Wingers Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben were almost unplayable, Thomas Muller demonstrated once again what a magnificently versatile player he is in an unfamiliar spearhead role, David Alaba was imperious at left back and Dante was a towering figure at the heart of the defense.
Yet it was in central midfield where Guardiola’s tactical superiority over Pellegrini appeared most apparent.
Philipp Lahm, Bastian Schweinsteiger and the outstanding Toni Kroos outnumbered and completely out-classed Yaya Toure and Fernandinho, who, it should not be forgotten, have already bullied a few Premier League midfields into submission this season.
Three against two was an almost unfair battle, and, with Jesus Navas and Samir Nasri cutting anonymous figures on the flanks, fielding twin advanced attacking totems in Edin Dzeko and Sergio Aguero seemed at least one too many, especially in comparison to Guardiola’s striker-less formation.
“If this was an English coach, we would all be commenting on how naïve he is,” observed part-time England coach Gary Neville, commentating for TV.
It was a chastening evening for Pellegrini, who had been recruited not merely as a stately antidote to the abrasive management style of Roberto Mancini, but for his reputation for coaxing the maximum out of his charges against elite European competition.
Mancini oversaw two disastrous Champions League campaigns, and Pellegrini’s debut group campaign will go the same way if there are many more autumn midweek evenings like this one.
“We played really badly,” observed the Chilean afterwards. “It’s not the team we see in the Premier League.”
Yet Pellegrini’s City has also had an uneven start to its league program. Imperious home victories over Newcastle United and Manchester United have sat alongside surprise 3-2 defeats at Cardiff City and Aston Villa.
The new manager is developing a more eye-catching playing style than his predecessor managed. Nine matches have now yielded a creditable 23 goals, with the high water-mark the unforgettable 4-1 humiliation of United.
However, the Chilean’s squad appears alarmingly lopsided.
Pellegrini has an enviable roster of strikers and attacking midfielders, but 100 million pounds worth of recruitment over the summer has not addressed the team’s considerable defensive shortcomings.
Joe Hart’s form has been topsy-turvy for too long for it to be considered a blip, Gael Clichy’s defensive shortcomings are frequently exposed against the trickiest wingers and the selection of Micah Richards ahead of Pablo Zabaleta appeared a strange one beforehand and an even odder one in hindsight.
Vincent Kompany has re-discovered his mojo this season but this was a match he will not recall with any fondness, while Matija Nastasic is still learning his position. The center half back-up consisted tonight of Javi Garcia, a jack of all trades but master of none.
It will matter not a jot how efficient City is when it attacks if it continues to yield so easily to sprightly counterattacks.
On this evidence, it will take some team to wrestle the Champions League crown off Bayern. That side will have to be a far, far better one than City.