Manchester City’s Champions League campaign was left in tatters after a woeful performance in Amsterdam saw the Premier League champions fall to a 3-1 defeat to Ajax.
Realistically needing a win to maintain hopes of reaching the knockout phase, all looked to be going well for City as they took a lead through Samir Nasri. But Ajax struck back right before half-time through Siem de Jong and City them crumbled as the Dutch champions secured a memorable victory with goals from Niklas Moisander and Christian Eriksen.
City now sit bottom of Group D and now need to win their remaining three games and other results to go their way to avoid repeating last season’s early exit.
Ajax, needing a victory themselves to remain in contention in the group, began the contest brightly, showcasing the attractive play that has become synonymous with the famous club.
Eriksen had been given the role of leading the attack as a false nine and the young Dane’s ability and positioning caused City problems. First he sliced a shot wide of the target when well positioned from Lasse Schone’s touch back before he produced a low left-footed effort from outside the box that drifted wide of Joe Hart’s goal.
But against the run of play, it was City that grabbed the lead with their first real attack. Micah Richards started the move with a fine ball inside to James Milner that caught out the Ajax defense and allowed the midfielder to find an onrushing Nasri, who curled as first-time effort into the far corner.
While Ajax’s neat interplay continued, they rarely looked like causing a serious threat in City’s penalty area. In contrast, City’s greater directness gave the appearance that it would be a matter of time before they caught Ajax out with another fast-paced attack. Richards displayed the difference in physicality between the sides as he burst into the box down the right and saw his effort saved by Kenneth Vermeer when he perhaps could have squared it across goal.
The frustration was becoming palpable in the Amsterdam Arena as Ajax’s stylish approach play showed little sign of being able to penetrate the visitors’ back line. Ajax were largely reduced to long-range efforts that did little to threaten Hart’s goal.
City looked to be comfortably heading toward the half-time whistle, but were perhaps made to pay for their over passivity right before the break.
De Jong picked out Ricardo van Rhijn in far too much space down the right and the impressive full back drilled a low cross back toward his captain who fired first time low past Hart from just inside the box.
City’s players had clearly been instructed to step up the tempo in the second period and immediately looked to press Ajax higher up the pitch.
But the visitors were caught cold in almost unforgivable circumstances from a set piece. Eriksen played in an outswinging corner from the right and with City’s defenders almost motionless, Moisander rose easily ahead of Joleon Lescott at the near post to head down into the net from six yards.
Mancini almost immediately tried to change things up by bringing Aleksandr Kolarov and switching to a three-man backline. The change, though, only seemed to further unsettle City’s defenders and things soon turned into a nightmare for Mancini.
Midway through the second period, Gareth Barry lost possession to Schone inside his own half and the ball found its way to Eriksen who turned far too easily inside Kompany on the edge of the box before striking a left-footed shot that deflected off Gael Clichy and past a wrong-footed Hart.
Things could have quickly turned humiliating for City had Hart not pulled off a fine save from Tobias Sana.
City, now with desperation coursing through the team went in search of a way back into the contest.
Dzeko looked certain to reduce City’s arrears as he forced himself in between two defenders to get through on goal, but after hesitating shot straight at Vermeer.
After Nasri missed another presentable opportunity soon after, City’s chances of a comeback quickly dissipated and Ajax were comfortable in playing out was a tremendous triumph for manager Frank de Boer.