Ajax ended their 40-year wait for a win on English with a 2-1 victory over Manchester United at Old Trafford last season. Bidding to make it two wins in Manchester in 2012, the Eredivisie champions made the perfect start when their captain Siem de Jong scored twice in the opening 17 minutes. City’s 19-year-old Serbian Matija Nastasic sliced a clearance wide to hand Ajax an early corner, and after the former Fiorentina youngster and Vincent Kompany failed to clear, De Jong chipped the loose ball over Joe Hart from an acute angle. If the marking for Ajax’s first strike was questionable, City were all at sea for the striker’s second as he drifted past Yaya Touré and Gareth Barry and glanced his header past a helpless Hart. City’s use of a system which combined both man marking and zonal marking led to Ajax’s goals which will have frustrated Mancini. The Citizens manager would have drilled his side to be alert defending set-pieces ahead of the must-win game, with the Dutch side now netting from four corners in the Champions League this term. De Jong was denied his hat-trick by a superb full-stretch save by Hart which took his tally to 22 stops in Europe’s premier competition this season, more than any of his rivals.
If City were going to harbour any hopes of an unlikely comeback, and in doing so salvage their Champions League campaign, a quick response was needed. Mancini’s men managed to halve the deficit within five minutes of falling two goals behind. Touré showed impressive composure to control a cross on his chest before swivelling and squeezing his shot past Ajax goalkeeper Kenneth Vermeer. The Ivory Coast international is often the catalyst behind big City performances in crucial games, and after an impressive personal display which was unrewarded against Real Madrid in their opening game in Europe this season, the former Barcelona man has been strangely anonymous as City have struggled both domestically and in Europe. However, the 29-year-old was much-improved against Ajax and his swashbuckling runs made a reappearance as he looked to pick his way through a stubborn Ajax rearguard. Ultimately, he was unable to propel City to an unlikely three points.
City have a tendency to make life difficult for themselves which is epitomised by their comeback against Queens Park Rangers to win their first Premier League crown in May. After De Jong’s quick-fire brace, the Citizens need another 3-2 reversal if they were to keep alive their hopes of reaching the knockout stage for the first time. It was a subdued first half at an eerily muted Etihad Stadium, but after the interval, City burst into life which prompted a reaction from their fans. Sergio Aguero offered more of a threat, albeit hindered by his poor selection of footwear, and set the tone in the 47th minute with a burst of pace which almost exposed Frank De Boer’s side before the Argentine slipped. The former Atlético Madrid man made no mistake when he was presented with his first clear cut chance, racing on to Mario Balotelli’s flick on and firing low past Vermeer. The 24-year-old appeared to have scored the winner on the stroke of full-time when he poked Edin Dzeko’s cross into the roof of the net but the linesman’s flag was raised. Meanwhile, in the 93rd minute, Balotelli was fouled in the clearly being held penalty area as he attempted to test the Ajax goalkeeper but there was to be no penalty award much to the irk of Mancini who remonstrated with the officials at full-time. There was no repeat of the scenes on 13 May.
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