Despite a positive start, Wednesday night was a chastening one for Manchester City's players, staff, and fans.
The English champions lost against Ajax, a game they really had to win, and now sit on just one point after three games. A maximum haul from their final three games (which would include winning in Dortmund), would see them finish on 10 points; the same number which saw them cruelly eliminated at the same stage last season.
Elimination once again at such an early stage would be a body blow for the club, whose ambition this season extends beyond simply attempting to retain their league crown.
Progress in Europe is required, to continue their upward curve of success, and to keep and attract star players. And then there are the financial implications. With the possible Financial Fair Play rules incoming, television money from the latter stages of the Champions League would be more than welcome.
So while it is too early to write off City so far, its impossible to pretend all is rosy, and questions are being asked as they so often are in football about the future of their manager, Roberto Mancini.
It seems unthinkable. The man who delivered the club's first league title in 44 years earlier this year is being so closely scrutinised. Yet this is modern football, it is as unsurprising as it is shocking.
A second successive year of failure to progress from the group stages would be a blemish on his record at City, despite their tough draws in both, and couple with his Champions League failure at Inter Milan, raises questions over his ability to kick on at the top level of European football.
It is not the only issue Mancini has to deal with. He is a manager of a prickly nature, careering from one fallout to the next with his expensively assembled team of stars, and cannot decide on his preferred tactical formation, let alone a settled line-up.
On the pitch, he will not move City forward without sorting these out, and while their league form has picked up recently with three straight wins, retaining their league title is looking even tougher than last year, thanks to the renewed challenge of Chelsea appearing to make it a legitimate three-way fight.
It is crucial to note however that Mancini signed a new five-year contract as recently as July. While City could afford to sack and replace him, whether they want to is doubtful.
After all their options to replace him are limited. Standout name Pep Guardiola is one option, but has been linked with rivals United, and may not see City as the place for him. Mourinho would not be popular with City fans after his derogatory comments about the club earlier this season.
Then it must be considered that Mancini is simply paying the price for increased expectations thanks to his own rapid achievement at City, a victim of his own success. Last year was supposed to be the season they strongly challenged for the title, after rising to third in 2010/11. Second would have been begrudgingly accepted as improvement, but they arguably exceeded expectation if not ambition when Sergio Aguero hit his famous title winning goal in May.
Recent European results haven't been great for City. but time to reflect is needed. The Champions League is tough, just ask Sir Alex Ferguson who has won it twice in 15 seasons, or Arsene Wenger, none in 14. If the champions can retain their Premier League trophy in May, early elimination will be brushed off once again, ready for a renewed attempt next year.
City might just be be best off with sticking with the devil they know, if supporters pardon the phrase. Long-term thinking is more likely to lead to long-term success than kneejerk reaction.
Do you still believe Mancini is the long-term future of Manchester City?
image: © Mafue