The pressure is on for Man City in the Champions League

Posted by Ravi Ubha

For the immediate future, Manchester City confronting a German team in the Champions League will inevitably have many harkening back to a little over 12 months ago when Carlos Tevez refused to warm up against Bayern Munich in Bavaria, not City's 2-0 win over Bayern in early December.

Even if City has moved on since, ending a league drought that lasted more than four decades in England's top division with the help of the back-in-vogue Tevez, there is something left to be proved in Europe's elite club competition.

But after losing 3-2 to Real Madrid in this season's group opener in a game that lived up to the hype, City sits in an uncomfortable position. A defeat against Borussia Dortmund, the German champion, on Wednesday in the north of England would see City move a step closer to the abyss -- which, for a team of its stature, is the Europa League -- with only two match days completed.

The encounter at the Etihad Stadium is this week's main attraction in the Champions League.

"We didn't start too well because we lost against Real Madrid, and for this reason it is important to play well against Dortmund," City manager Roberto Mancini told reporters.

City has been doing just enough in the Premier League, and not much has changed since the stinging loss in the Spanish capital. A side that conceded a league-low 29 goals last season has already shipped eight in six games this campaign. If the ratio persists, City will leak 50 goals in 2012-13.

On Saturday, pundits on BBC's "Match of the Day" suggested that Vincent Kompany, the standout central defender last term, was overly sluggish in a 2-1 win at Fulham. They dissected his moves at the back.

Logic dictates that at some point, and soon, City will sort out its defensive issues. For now, the firepower up front is rescuing Mancini in England. As witnessed in Madrid, Europe is a different matter.

Dortmund manager Jurgen Klopp, whose troops eventually overcame Ajax on the first match day, can at least sympathize.

Through six games in the Bundesliga, Dortmund has also allowed eight goals. Almost unthinkably, it was breached three times in back-to-back away games against Hamburg and Eintracht Frankfurt in late September. A 3-2 reverse in Hamburg ended the club's 31-match unbeaten streak, and a 3-3 result against Frankfurt reeked of a hangover. Klopp was particularly annoyed when Frankfurt, trailing 2-0, scored on a counterattack to halve the deficit. Here was a side that allowed 25 league goals last season in 34 games. Whereas Kompany is City's bulldozer, Neven Subotic fills the role for Dortmund.

"The lads have not lost their memory," Klopp said following the Frankfurt game. "Our attacking potential is enormous, but we need to give better protection to our attacks. And if we do that we won't make it so easy for our opponents, even for well-playing ones."

Soothing Klopp was Saturday's 5-0 thrashing of Borussia Moenchengladbach, when a clean sheet was accompanied by Marco Reus tormenting his former teammates. Like City, the goals have flowed for Dortmund: 13 in the last four in the Bundesliga. Klopp rested goal machine Robert Lewandowski, marking the first time since March 2011 the Pole didn't start in the league. He'll no doubt return Wednesday.

A draw for City wouldn't be the worst result, since it faces Ajax in the wraparound games of the third and fourth match days and will fully expect to collect six points against the group's weakest entrant. But if it is indeed a loss, City won't mind seeing the back of a Bundesliga team for a while.

Here are two more intriguing games this week:

Zenit St. Petersburg vs. AC Milan
Ten years ago, this fixture would have been rather mundane: Milan to win fairly comfortably. Not now. Zenit announced itself on the European stage by winning the UEFA Cup in 2008 and reached the second round of the Champions League last season, a first, under Italian Luciano Spalletti.

Meanwhile, a summer clearout at Milan has left the Rossoneri in mid-table in Serie A, already nine points behind leader Juventus.
Milan suffered what must have felt like a loss in match day 1, playing to a 0-0 draw with minnow Anderlecht at home. Manager Massimiliano Allegri received a vote of confidence from chief executive Adriano Galliani this week, but a poor result in Russia on Wednesday and another against Inter in the Milan derby on Sunday could change the minds of the Milan hierarchy.

Spalletti has had his own problems. Zenit fell 3-0 to Malaga in its opener, and Spalletti banished Russian internationals Igor Denisov and Alexander Kerzhakov to the reserves when they took exception to the high salaries given to two recent acquisitions from Portugal, Hulk and Axel Witsel.

Kerzhakov was welcomed back and featured last weekend against Lokomotiv Moscow; Denisov didn't -- and wasn't in the squad. The headaches never end for managers, eh?

CFR Cluj vs. Manchester United
Manchester United's Alex Ferguson joined the list of disgruntled bosses this week. Losing to Tottenham at Old Trafford for the first time in 23 years -- United has already been beaten twice in the Premier League -- will do that.

Ferguson ripped into a television reporter Monday when he was asked light-heartedly about the Ryder Cup, and surprisingly revealed that he felt foreign players in the Premier League are more prone to diving. (What, many would ask, are the nationalities of Danny Welbeck and Ashley Young?)

Cluj might not be easy pickings for the Red Devils on Tuesday. The Romanian outfit, quietly becoming a regular in the Champions League, engineered one of the upsets of match day 1 by blanking Braga 2-0 on the road. It countered effectively and got both goals from Brazilian forward Rafael Bastos, once briefly of Braga.

"Galatasaray and Manchester United will certainly look at us differently," Bastos told UEFA. Even more so if Cluj topples United. "Disgruntled" wouldn't begin to describe Fergie then.

ESPN Conversations