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Stuttering Manchester City hope to get their mojo back in Mönchengladbach

Manchester City take on Borussia Mönchengladbach on Wednesdayevening hoping to relocate their X-factor. Their scintillating early-season form drew a maximum 15 points and returned five clean sheets. The question then seemed to be how soon Manuel Pellegrini’s team might blow away all comers domestically, and if this was to be the year they finally became a true challenger in the Champions League.

Manuel Pellegrini

The Manchester City manager, Manuel Pellegrini, with Kevin De Bruyne in the background, briefs the media at Borussia Mönchengladbach’s Borussia-Park. Photograph: Carl Recine/Reuters

But since the last-minute win at Crystal Palace in early September City have lost three of their four games. The swagger and killer focus on show throughout August has evaporated. The manner of their capitulations has been worryingly familiar. On Saturday they went down 4-1 at Tottenham Hotspur in a display of abject defending.

The 2-1 home defeat to Juventus came after leading 1-0, with Raheem Sterling missing chances to secure the three points and defensive naivety allowing the Italian champions to grab victory. This has tended to be the tale of City in Europe’s blue riband club competition.

Last season they failed to win until matchday five of the group stage. The sense is of a side who are not ruthless enough.

Pellegrini, though, struck a defiant note when this was put to him. The manager, who embarrassingly had to return home for his passport before boarding his flight to Düsseldorf, pointed to how since he took over City have always reached the last 16.

“I don’t think we fail in Europe,” he said. “We have qualified for the knockout stages in my two seasons and lost to Barcelona, who are the best team in the world. We have beaten Bayern Munich twice. Last season we won our last two games, against Bayern Munich and Roma, so we know how to do it. This season we lost to Juventus – a strange game.”

Pellegrini has some mitigation in an injury list that continues to pile up: Vincent Kompany is the headline absentee. The City slump can be traced back to the moment he limped off with his latest calf injury on 75 minutes against Juventus. At that point the score was 1-1; the match ended 2-1 and since then City have since allowed seven goals and beaten only Sunderland in the Capital One Cup.

The manager was not minded to admit City are a poorer side without the central defender but he did concede Kompany’s value. “Of course Vincent is a very important player,” the manager said. “He is our captain and he has started the season very well, but I don’t think one player is so crucial. We won the last six games of last season without Vincent. I think it was the amount of injuries we have had has been more important. We have a strong squad but not good enough to sustain 11 injuries.”

While Eliaquim Mangala, who has been rejuvenated alongside Kompany, is also a significant absentee, Joe Hart, David Silva and Yaya Touré are all available to face Mönchengladbach. Silva’s expected restoration to the XI following a calf problem means he should slot in behind Sergio Agüero in the No10 berth, with Kevin De Bruyne moving to the right. The Bundesliga player of the year is back in familiar territory following his transfer from Wolfsburg and given how well he has begun at City, the hope will be the 24-year-old can shine in Germany once again.

Mönchengladbach, who finished third last year and are back in the European Cup after a 37-year hiatus, have recovered from a run of six consecutive defeats to win their past two matches, the last of them 3-0 at Stuttgart. Eleven days ago André Schubert replaced Lucien Favre as the coach, and De Bruyne knows the challenge at Borussia-Park may not be easy.

The forward believes Bundesliga clubs provide opposition as daunting as those they find in the Premier League. “I don’t think there are a lot of differences,” he said. “More comparisons than difference – you have to be tough to win every game. Even against the smaller clubs you have to be 100% to win, and this I believe makes them the two best leagues in the world.”

De Bruyne is proving a calm, assured footballer. His outstanding form for City has come despite (or maybe because of) a sizeable change at home, as he is to become a father. “It makes me excited. I don’t know if it is reflected in the way I am playing but my family and my girlfriend are looking forward to it,” the Belgium international said.

For De Bruyne and his team, though, three points must surely be taken against Mönchengladbach or City will again be playing catch-up too early.

As Pellegrini said: “I expect a very good game against a very big club. We want to recover the points we dropped at home. We know that Champions League is just five games [more] that we must play and we must qualify. It is not a final but it is a very important game.”

Away from home in the competition City’s record is eight losses from 14 matches. They dare not make it nine this time.-THE GUARDIAN-


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