IT has become the recurring theme of Manchester Cityâ€™s difficult and largely unsatisfactory Champions League story, and the longer it goes on the harder the impression becomes of a team struggling to know what to do to put it right.
This is the fourth successive season they have failed to win their first home game in the competition and, while the damage is not grievous, there is already evidence that they might have to re-invent themselves if their latest European campaign is not going on to become another chastening experience.
A club with their ambitions must be alarmed about their lack of progress and it could conceivably have been worse bearing in mind the long passages when Roma, sensing the home sideâ€™s vulnerabilities, moved the ball purposefully and threatened to pin them back. Both sides could reflect on opportunities to win the match, with Manuel Pellegriniâ€™s team at least showing some late momentum, but Roma looked the more rounded side and the lingering impression of City was one of deja vu for anyone who has followed their difficulties in Europe since the Abu Dhabi money poured in.
Collectively, they are still getting to grips with this competition but, individually, this is a team with bags of experience at the highest level. On that basis, it does not quite add up how they can look so raw sometimes.
They had an early breakthrough here courtesy of Sergio AgÃ¼eroâ€™s fourth-minute penalty but it did not take Roma long to shake their heads clear and they fully deserved Francesco Tottiâ€™s equaliser midway through the first half.
Totti, with one elegant swish of his right boot, took over from Ryan Giggs in that moment as the oldest player, at 38 years and three days, to score in the Champions League. He might not be the lean figure of old, packing a few extra pounds these days, but his sureness of touch and understanding of space is still there whereas all of Cityâ€™s front players disappointed, apart from the substitute James Milner.
They are odd moments indeed when a routine ball gets played into AgÃ¼eroâ€™s feet and comes back awkwardly off his shins and, before the end, there were signs of tetchiness among supporters in the home stands when Yaya TourÃ© made another misplaced pass.
Totti was a joy to watch at times and it was a beautifully measured chip, with the outside of his right foot, to lift the ball almost nonchalantly over the advancing Joe Hart for the equaliser. Gervinho operated with the pace and directness that was seen only fleetingly during his days at Arsenal and Radja Nainggolan, the Belgian, played with finesse and intelligence, as witnessed by the pass that left Totti running clear for his goal.
Roma showed why they have won all five of their games in Serie A and passed the ball, to use the words of their manager Rudi GarcÃa, with â€œpersonality and incredible maturity.â€
All the same, the analysis of Cityâ€™s performance should not overlook the fact this was a Roma team lacking their usual goalkeeper and both their first-choice centre-halves, and not forgetting the considerable influence of Daniele De Rossi and Kevin Strootman in midfield. Their understudies all acquitted themselves ably but it was reasonable to have expected City to play with more control once Maicon had jutted out his left arm to bring down AgÃ¼ero for his penalty.
Maiconâ€™s overlapping runs caused his former club plenty of problems but it was the kind of impetuous defending that would not normally be expected of a player with his vast experience. It was a clear penalty and City were also entitled to think they should have had another one before half-time when JesÃºs Navasâ€™s cross came back off the hand of Greek defender Kostas Manolas.
Yet it was noticeable, too, that Pellegrini did not mention that incident once. Instead he talked afterwards about the frequency with which passes went astray and acknowledged that playing both AgÃ¼ero and Edin Dzeko might have contributed to the way they were often outnumbered in midfield.
Maicon whacked an early shot against the crossbar and Gervinhoâ€™s speed and elusiveness was a prominent feature. Milnerâ€™s introduction at the expense of Navas did bring some more impetus but the home teamâ€™s problems were more widespread. Their tempo was poor and it was unusual to see their more attacking players, chief among them TourÃ©, struggling collectively for form.
There was plenty to encourage Roma and as the game went on it was a growing sense of foreboding engulfing the home stands. City have previously tried to manufacture an atmosphere on these nights, dimming the lights at kick-off and projecting a giant blue moon across one of the stands. The routine has been dropped and it is a strangely subdued crowd when this is the competition the club want to embrace.
Hart had been culpable of a small yet decisive slip as he came off his goalline to try to intercept the ball before Tottiâ€™s equaliser but the City goalkeeper did well otherwise and Pellegrini was justified afterwards in questioning how much space the former Italy international had been given.
Frank Lampard was brought on and he, like Milner, seemed eager to lift the team, testing the goalkeeper Lukasz Skorupski with a dipping 25-yard drive. Yet Roma had their own chances and there was a note of desperation to that late flurry from a City team, once again, searching for the answers. – The Guardian