City confirmed their place in the knock-out stages of the Champions League for the first time last night with an emphatic 5-2 win at home against CSKA Moscow. Here is a look at the main talking points from the game.
Credit to Pellegrini
Much has been made of City’s underperformance in the Champions League in the last two years but Manuel Pellegrini deserves credit for ensuring City’s qualification from the group stages with two games to spare. Despite this year’s group being somewhat easier than the previous two, it still demonstrates excellent progress to have secured qualification after four games. It is possible for City to top the group but if Bayern Munich win their next match away to CSKA, which they surely will, they are pretty much guaranteed top spot. The luxury for Pellegrini is that he can now field weakened sides for the remaining fixtures which is a massive bonus considering the glut of Premier League fixtures in December. Home games against Swansea and Arsenal follow the remaining two Champions League group stage matches and to be able rest our best players before these games is a great situation to be in.
The Beautiful Game
Some of the football that City played last night, particularly in the first half, was a joy to behold. With Sergio Aguero in the best form in his City career and looking almost unplayable, and the likes of David Silva, Samir Nasri and Alvaro Negredo hitting top form, too, it’s easy to see why football is referred to as the beautiful game. The passing and the movement of the midfield and attack was memorising at times. The closest CSKA got the ball before City opened the scoring was when Zoran Tosic fouled David Silva for the penalty that Aguero converted in the third minute. Aguero’s Johan Cruyff-esque flick to David Silva on the receipt of a long ball was a personal highlight. Lesser players would have struggled to control the ball let alone pull of skill like that. Beautiful.
And this is exactly how Pellegrini wants City to play. High-tempo, intense pressing, intricate passing and an accent on attack. It’s a philosophy he has carried with him everywhere and it’s really beginning to transmit to City’s squad. Winning is, of course, important, but winning in style is even better.
Samir Nasri is, without doubt, playing the best football since he arrived at City. He looked to be heading for the exit at the beginning of the summer but he deserves credit for turning it around and cementing his place in the starting eleven. As well as showing the kind of skill and trickery on the ball that is expected of a player of his quality, his desire and hunger to fight for possession off the ball is a revelation. Previous to Pellegrini’s arrival, it didn;t seem like he had it in him. His quality was only underlined when he was substituted in the second half and City missed him. The same could be said of Silva. With the midfield foursome of Nasri, Silva, Toure and Fernandinho in such good form, it is little surprise that City have scored 12 goals in the last two games.
Aguero and Negredo
Between them, City’s strike pairing have scored nine goals in four Group D matches. It’s a phenomenal record that has gone a long way to securing City’s passage to the knock-out phase. Agiero’s goals in Plzen and Moscow were vital, and they scored all five between them in the match last night. Their link-up play defies the short time they’ve spent in tandem, and City have arguably the best strike pair in England right now.
Written by Rob Toole and Rob Pollard