Manchester City 0-0 Dynamo Kiev (Agg 3-1): Vincent Kompany blow as Blues advance in Champions League
Manchester City lost defenders Vincent Kompany and Nicolas Otamendi to injury as they limped into the Champions League quarter-finals after a dull goalless draw against Dynamo Kiev.
City should have been celebrating securing a place in the last eight for the first time but by full-time at the Etihad Stadium the mood seemed rather sombre, as the implications of the injuries sank in.
The loss of Kompany, with a tricky run-in ahead, could be particularly galling - although on this occasion his team-mates coped well enough without him to ensure progress courtesy of last-month's 3-1 win in Ukraine.
It was a largely dreary encounter that only spluttered into life when Yaya Toure attempted to force the issue in the second half, but the closest City came was when Jesus Navas hit the post.
Their night could hardly have got off to a worse start as Kompany pulled up yet again attempting an early clearance. He immediately slumped to the ground and the groan around the stadium was audible.
The Belgian's body language suggested the problem was serious and with just six minutes of the game gone he was limping off. Initial reports suggested he had suffered a calf injury and, if confirmed, it would be the 13th such problem since the start of the 2011-12 campaign and his fourth this season.
His importance to City in terms of influence and defensive ability cannot be understated - and the concerns with a derby against Manchester United coming up were obvious - and the problem was immediately compounded by an injury to Otamendi.
The Argentinian was hurt in a hefty challenge from Vitaliy Buyalskiy and his attempts to run off the knock - after being booked for re-entering the field without the referee's permission - proved unsuccessful. After aggravating the problem hitting a long ball he was removed and, with just 23 minutes gone, City had an all-changed centre-back partnership of Eliaquim Mangala and Martin Demichelis.
The disruption robbed City of any vitality and their first-half performance was one of the worst served up at Eastlands all season.
Their best moment came when Navas burst through the Kiev defence, brilliantly skipping one challenge, but the Spaniard then overhit his pass for Pablo Zabaleta and the crowd groaned again. Sergio Aguero did get in a shot but slipped in doing so and it curled well wide.
City were fortunate Kiev were not at their most potent either, although fans' nerves were hardly eased when a poor Demichelis pass played Mangala into trouble and Andriy Yarmolenko almost pounced.
Joe Hart also had to punch clear from a clear flicked header by Denys Garmash.
City woke up a bit after the break with Toure coming to the fore. He curled a free-kick over and then teed up Aguero and Navas, who shot across goal and hit the foot of the post respectively. He had another chance himself but picked out goalkeeper Olexandr Shovkovskiy while, at the other end, Yarmolenko shot straight at Hart.
Yarmolenko had a penalty appeal turned down and Hart saved from Olexandr Yakovenko as Kiev rallied late on but it hardly made the game much of a contest. City had done their job, albeit at a cost.
Match preview: talking points
We look at some talking points affecting the club ahead of the game.
Is the Champions League now the main focus of City's season?
There is a strong argument to suggest it is. City's goalless draw at Norwich on Saturday was damaging - and possibly fatal - to their Barclays Premier League title hopes.
They are in a strong position in this tie and it would make sense to give the competition priority.
But can they realistically win it?
On their day, City are arguably the best side in England, and they should be able to trouble most teams in Europe. But a lot would still depend on the draws for the quarter- and semi-finals because there are some sides - notably Barcelona and Bayern Munich - they would rather avoid. If they can somehow steer clear of the big guns until the final they might have a chance, but it is difficult to see them negotiating a way past the very best over two legs.
Where does this leave the Premier League challenge?
Manager Manuel Pellegrini will not concede defeat in the title race until it is a mathematically impossibility. Last week he said City could still win it if they won nine of their remaining games and that is still possible, although with only nine to go that leaves no margin for error whatsoever.
Given that they have not won back-to-back league games since October, it also seems highly unlikely. Realistically, City may be better served shoring up a top-four spot and putting their full energies into the Champions League.
A quarter-final place is almost assured.
With such a good lead, City should not blow it from here. Kiev, however, are no mugs, as they proved in the first leg. After a poor first half owing much to a lack of competitive action in the previous 11 weeks, Kiev rallied after the break and went close to making the score 2-2 before Yaya Toure scored late to seal the 3-1 win.
Is Toure back?
The key midfielder has overcome the heel problem that kept him out of the game at Norwich and should return. The Ivorian has been regularly criticised this season and labelled a declining force but his influence on the City side remains strong. This has been obvious on a number of occasions recently, with Toure impressing in Kiev and Capital One Cup final wins but being missed in games at Liverpool and Norwich - both of which City failed to win.
Will Pellegrini persist with Bony as back-up striker?
Since returning from his latest injury last month Wilfried Bony has failed to impress in two substitute appearances and two starts. This is much in keeping with the rest of his City career, which has been a tale of injuries, illness and poor form and is yet to ignite.
There has been some bemusement at how he seems to have jumped back ahead of Kelechi Iheanacho in the pecking order.
The young Nigerian has made a big impression this season and must be itching for another opportunity. Pellegrini will probably play only one striker against Kiev but many fans would rather Iheanacho got the nod as Sergio Aguero's back-up.
Belfast Telegraph Digital