The Lead

Among one of the more overused words in recent football writing (and I’m no angel in this) is ‘narrative.’ But it’s a great word, because it aptly describes what most sportswriters do: link tenuous empirical facts to craft a story for our readers with a beginning, middle, and end.

Managerial narratives are among the most popular, partly because they allow writers to explore character, and because the hiring, success/failure, and eventual sacking provide convenient plot points along the way. One could say Roberto Mancini is nearing his personal Act Three at Manchester City. Despite winning the Premier League last season in the most dramatic fashion possible, his team are facing likely elimination from the group stage in this year’s Champions League.

Failure to launch in Europe is not a new thing for Mancini; it’s the primary reason Inter chairman Massimo Moratti fired him as coach in May of 2008. And so, as expected, Mancini is taking the blame for City’s current troubles. There are many examples this morning, but here, at random, is Jamie Trecker’s:

A lot must and will be heaped on Roberto Mancini’s shoulders. He has demonstrated an alarming fecklessness during his tenure as City’s manager and seems more concerned with career-climbing than with developing an actual team. His body language Tuesday night was suggestive. When Siem de Jong rattled his first goal home, Mancini’s face was dismissive of his own team, a deflective gesture that was utterly self-serving.

Suggestive body language, career-climbing. Compelling stuff. Of course, the post-match nonsense involving Balotelli’s non-penalty call is also being used as evidence that Mancini “has lost the plot.”

None of this is necessarily false. But neither is it based in any solid, empirical evidence; all narratives after all involve some measure of creative fiction. Some however, like Infostrada’s Simon Gleave, have pushed back against the “it’s all Mancini’s fault” line today based on the myriad, unaccountable factors that also influenced recent results in the Champions League.

I’m not certain Mancini can be absolved in accounting for City’s problems in Europe, particularly in light of some of his questionable mid-game tactical shifts in matches against Dortmund and Ajax, but Gleave does at least hold football writers to a better standard. As in: why exactly do Roberto Mancini’s teams fail in the Champions League? Is there any single element that can be identified that separates success in a domestic league from success in a cup competition? If so, what is it? How do managers influence this factor?

These questions have been hinted at in the past (as in the case of Mr. European Cup, Rafa Benitez). But I’m about 90% certain that they don’t exclusively involve career-climbing or bad body language.

Canada

Despite an embarrassing loss to Honduras, Canada now 60th in FIFA World Rankings

England

Mancini escapes disciplinary action after post-game field fury.

Theo Walcott insists he deserves to play in the starting XI.

Teenager banned from games indefinitely for verbally abusing Bolton’s Sordell.

Shakhtar Donetsk boss confident his team can overcome Chelsea

Italy

According to the latest FIFA World Rankings the Azzurri are now in fifth place.

AC Milan still hopeful despite draw with Malaga.

La Liga

Mourinho’s second half substitutions pay off.

Barcelona’s Pedro not underestimating Scottish side Celtic

Malaga through to knockout stage with a draw against AC Milan

Germany

Dermot Corrigan recaps the Dortmund v Madrid game and why we should fear this German side.

Gary Wittman has all the details of the Schalke v Arsenal match including tactics and formation

Bit and Bobs

Missed the UEFA CL games yesterday? No worries, watch the highlights here.

Zlatan Ibrahimovich sets up all four of PSG’s goal in 4-0 victory over Dinamo.

Images that captured Tuesday’s intense Champions League matches.

Steve Wilson breaks down the odds of Manchester City still qualifying.

Thanks to Alima Hotakie for compiling today’s links.