Belfast Telegraph

Manchester City can have no excuses for Dynamo Kiev clash in Champions League

By Jack Brooke Pitt

There are no excuses left for Manchester City. They do not need to win tonight, but they have to progress over two legs against Dynamo Kiev or else the final chapter of the Manuel Pellegrini era will unravel further into farce.

This is City's fifth season in the Champions League and their third time in the last 16. In the last two seasons they have been outclassed by Barcelona at this stage.

This time, as a reward for winning Group D, they have a more manageable opponent. If they do not reach the quarter-finals this year, when will they?

This would be a big game under normal circumstances, but City have brought even more pressure on themselves by their discarding of the FA Cup fifth-round tie at Chelsea on Sunday.

By reallocating all of his eggs into the Champions League basket, Pellegrini has made progress at this stage imperative following the second-string side's 5-1 defeat at Stamford Bridge. If they fail, they will have lost half of their conceivably winnable trophies in a week.

Pellegrini, though, insisted that the two issues were unconnected.

"I don't think one game is linked with the other one," Pellegrini said, before launching another defence of Sunday's raising of the white flag.

"Unfortunately for us, we had to make a difficult decision against Chelsea, but it was the only clear decision we had in that moment.

"If we had a completely fit squad, then a lot more experienced players could have played that game, but that was not the case. We had just 13 players, so I think that it was our intention to continue in all of the competitions, but we couldn't do that. We had to take a chance."

Pellegrini hopes that with all of the rested players back in the team tonight, City can continue their steady European progress.

"This game is absolutely different," he said.

"We are now thinking of trying to improve, because in the last two years we have arrived in the last 16 for the first time. Now we have won the group and we will try to continue, knowing that we have a difficult game."

Pablo Zabaleta, though, was more explicit about the connection between Sunday and tonight.

Dynamo have just returned from a winter break and Zabaleta said that City's mass rotation on Sunday will help them to compete against a well-rested team.

"Dynamo Kiev have had a long break, time to have a good rest and recover some of the players who have been injured," Zabaleta said.

"We know that the Premier League is hard, we have been playing a lot of games in January and February. We are coming off so many games.

"Physically and mentally we have to be fresh so we can play at 100 per cent."

City want to speed up their progress from here, which is why Pep Guardiola will replace Pellegrini at the end of this season.

There is nothing Pellegrini can do to save himself now, but it remains to be seen whether City's senior players are committed to performing as they can over the final straight of the season.

They have lost their last three games, gone out of the FA Cup and slipped away from the top of the Premier League title race.

If they do in fact want to play for Pellegrini and give him a positive ending to his three-year City tenure, now would be a good time to start showing it.

The Chilean was asked if his imminent departure was affecting results, but again denied it.

"That is not a problem," he said. "All the players from the start, they are just thinking in this season that we have important challenges from now until the end of the year."

Belfast Telegraph


From Belfast Telegraph