Belfast Telegraph

City must pass a Spanish inquisition in the midst of brewing storm with Uefa

By Ian Herbert

Manchester City landed in an Andalusian rainstorm last night, kicking and fighting as they so often do against the European football establishment, insisting that their supporters have every right to defy a Uefa investigation by drowning out the governing body's anthem with their boos again tonight.

The Uefa match delegate included this supposed act of insurrection in his match report when the two sides met in Manchester two weeks ago and though tonight's representative may well choose not to - further reducing the slim prospect of City being charged and fined two weeks from now - City manager Manuel Pellegrini evoked the spirit of Peterloo, after a fashion.

"I think that everyone has the right to boo or protest on how they see things. It is important how they do it. Everyone has the right to do it," he said.

"If they boo, Uefa are not doing something right."

The latest riposte was welcome. The over-zealous official has embarrassed Uefa, especially at a time when the word from the Nyon headquarters is that all serious business has drawn to a halt, during the suspension of president Michel Platini, but City's talk cannot disguise that they yearn to be on the inside of the European football establishment, too.

Though a win tonight, coupled with a failure to do so by Borussia Monchengladbach at home to Juventus, would put them through, the fragile state of this qualifying group reveals a side still some distance from dominating Europe.

Defeat would throw Group D wide open.

The most interesting aspect of Pellegrini's discussion spoke to the knock-out stages, which City aspire to reach as group winners for the first time.

Asked why Spanish clubs persistently outperform the English - with Barcelona eliminating City in the past two seasons - he provided a pessimistic outlook for next Spring.

Diminishing levels of competition in La Liga, allied to the English winter workload and what he claimed was the elite Spanish sides having "the best players in the world" and "the same money or more money than every club in England" made the going very hard for sides like his own.

"I remember when I arrived here, there were six or seven important teams, not only Barcelona and Real Madrid, but in the last few years they have one or two teams and Atletico Madrid last year," he said.

"The pace is higher. The most technical league in Europe is here in Spain but the best league is in England."

The immediate challenge for Pellegrini is a Sevilla side who have tasted success in Europe, winning the Uefa Cup in 2006 and 2007 and more recent Europa League triumphs in 2014 and 2015.

Their struggle to make headway in La Liga - Saturday's defeat at Villarreal, their fourth in 10 games, puts them 11th - left manager Unai Emery warning that domestic work must be the priority. But Pellegrini knows from nine years' work within these shores that he will find an indefatigability in the tight, homespun little Estadio Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan.

'Start a new era' declares one of the banners Pellegrini might have caught sight of as he walked into the ground.

It was a reference to the Andulucians taking the step up from the Europa League, which they have won for the past two years, to the Champions League and being ready to go again.

Emery made a big play of the value of home advantage when he spoke yesterday.

"We need to give them a feel of how difficult it is to come to our stadium and play against us."

He suggested it was do or die now.

Belfast Telegraph


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