Roberto Mancini accepts blame for defeat and looks for 'a miracle' in Champions League
Roberto Mancini insisted he was at fault for the defeat which left Manchester City needing a "miracle" to avoid Champions League elimination after dismissing claims by Micah Richards that defensive confusion gifted Ajax an unexpected victory.
City could now win all three of their remaining Group D fixtures and still fail to qualify for the Champions League knockout stages after being left rooted to the bottom of their section following the 3-1 defeat against the Dutch champions.
Shambolic defending by the Premier League champions proved central to their downfall in the Amsterdam Arena, with Mancini instructing his players to alter their defensive formation on at least three occasions, prompting fullback Richards to admit that his team-mates were unsettled by the changes.
“It is something [three at the back] that we have not worked on very much and it is the second time we have conceded after going to a back three,” Richards said.
“I think the players prefer a back four, but it is what the manager wants. “It’s something we have not worked on a lot. We are used to a straight back four. It [back three] is a hard system for us because we are not used to it and the players prefer a 4-4-2, but he’s the manager and we’ll do what he says.”
Mancini hit back at the defender’s remarks, however, by claiming his own poor preparation, rather than the tactical alterations, were the reason for the defeat.
“I don’t think that is important.” Mancini said. “Three, four, five, six or seven defenders, if someone wants that as an excuse, then OK, but it’s not the reason.
“I don’t know what he [Richards] said, but I don’t want to have this. On the pitch, we are always 11 players and we played three at the back only for five minutes because we wanted someone to play in the hole.
“If you have spirit and quality you can play in the Champions League. If you don’t have it, you can’t. When you play this game you must have spirit and it is my fault because I should have prepared differently for this game. But it is very difficult to qualify now. It would be a miracle.”
When asked to clarify his comments, however, and explain where exactly he failed to prepare properly, Mancini proved evasive. He said: “It was my fault because I didn’t prepare well for this game and I take the blame. Sometimes you think the game will go one way and it goes another.
“We played a bad game. Ajax played better than us and congratulations to them. We had a lot of chances to score and in the Champions League when you have a chance, you have to score. We are a young club for the Champions League. This is only the second season we play and we have three of four important players injured who played in the Champions League every year. But this doesn’t change anything.”
Ajax, with seven home-grown players in a youthful starting line-up, overturned Samir Nasri’s first-half opener to claim a victory orchestrated by the Danish midfielder Christian Eriksen.
And when asked how it felt for millionaires to be beaten by teenagers, Mancini did little to defend his players against the accusation that they had been undone by rookies.
“Millionaires beaten by teenagers? If you want to write that then you can,” Mancini said. “The millionaires put everything on the pitch and Ajax put more than us.”
A day which began with Mancini undertaking a shopping trip to Amsterdam’s Jimmy Choo store ended with his team stumbling to the brink of a second successive Champions League failure. Qualification for the knockout stages remains a possibility, but City even face a fight to qualify for the Europa League having dropped to the foot of the group, two points adrift of Ajax. “Qualification was our target before these three games, but at this moment it is very difficult,” Mancini said.
“But if we win the three games it will be very close. Ajax are a young team and they play football very well. They left us four or five chances to score and we missed chances. We made mistakes which usually we don’t do.”
Richards added: “I think we were beaten by a very good side and in the second half, after the second goal, we just crumbled. The lads are very disappointed with the way we played.
“After last season, when we got 10 points and didn’t get through, we knew this group was going to be a tough one.
“I thought we were going to come here and get the three points but it wasn’t to be. We will look forward to the next game and see what we can do.”
Mark Ogden at the Amsterdam Arena, Telegraph.co.uk