Manchester City made history last night, as they saw off Russian champions CSKA Moscow 5-2 at the Etihad to book their place in the last 16 of the Champions League for the first time.
A hat-trick from Alvaro Negredo and double from red-hot Sergio Aguero were enough to see off the Russian side.
When Manuel Pellegrini was appointed as City boss I proclaimed that the Citizens would be far better in Europe under the Chilean.
That was not hard to work out considering their struggles last season under Roberto Mancini.
City have made progress under Pellegrini and the former-Villarreal boss has done what Mancini could not, and guided City through to the knockout stages of the Champions League. One of the key reasons that Pellegrini got the City job was his record in the Champions League.
City are the fourth team that Pellegrini has taken to the last 16 of the competition, after guiding, Villarreal, Real Madrid and Malaga to the knockout stages.
Sergio Aguero and Alvaro Negredo are starting to build a very good partnership in the City attack. In the formation that City play Aguero may be regarded more as a second striker, but the big-man little-man partnership is proving very fruitful for the Citizens.
Aguero is in lethal form scoring eight times in his last six appearances for City in all competitions. The little Argentinian endured a poor campaign last season, after previously finding the net 23 times in City’s title winning season.
Aguero’s return to form has coincided with Spanish international Negredo getting more game time in the City attack. Pellegrini seems to have been breaking the Spaniard into the City team slowly and the man known as ‘the beast of Vallecas’ is starting to prove his worth.
Negredo scored lots of goals in La Liga. In fact in the last six seasons he had managed to get into double figures in the Spanish top-flight with Almeria and more recently Sevilla. The big striker always looked like he was perfectly built for the English game and his partnership with Aguero is bringing the best of the Argentine.
Manuel Pellegrini has four international forwards available to him, with Bosnian Edin Dzeko and Montenegrin Stevan Jovetic in the City squad. Dzeko has struggled to command a regular place in the City team though and injuries have restricted Jovetic’s appearances so far for City.
Although Pellegrini likes to rotate his squad I am sure that Aguero and Negredo are now very much regarded as his first choice strike-partnership.
While the attack is doing a fantastic job at the moment registering 12 goals in just two games, there has to be question marks about City’s defence. CSKA Moscow scored two goals last night, but a better quality of opposition may have caused City even more problems.
City’s defence has looked shaky throughout the Champions League campaign so far. European champions Bayern Munich ruthlessly exposed the weaknesses in the City backline at the Etihad Stadium earlier on this season, while CSKA could count themselves unlucky not to have claimed a draw in the reverse of this fixture.
Captain Vincent Kompany has struggled for fitness this season and the quicker he is back at the heart of the City defence the better. The Belgium international’s form has not been great in recent times, but that could be put down to his injury problems.
The uncertainty about the goalkeeping position at City may also have affected the City defence this season. Joe Hart has now missed the last two games, after an error at Chelsea cost City a crucial point.
Replacement Costel Pantilimon has done a decent job in his absence. Neither of the CSKA’s goals were the Romanian’s fault and he has not made any major errors for City. Defenders need to have faith in their keeper and at the moment the City defenders do not seem to have that faith.
Manchester City are still rather a work in progress under Manuel Pellegrini. We have seen the good, the bad and the ugly of Manchester City this season. The Chilean has made a decent start to his managerial career with City, but the veteran boss will be looking at ways to improve certain areas of his team in the coming months, mainly his defence.
Pellegrini has achieved his first objective as City boss though, and qualified for the last 16 of the Champions League. The Chilean does have a talented squad, but at the moment the Citizens are not yet ready to take on Europe’s giants.
Manchester City will be entering uncharted waters in the Champions League last 16 and must use this season as a learning experience.
City have the attack to give any defence in Europe problems, but I am afraid that the City backline may just let them down against the better teams and that could be City’s downfall in European football’s elite competition this season.
How far can Manchester City go in the Champions League this season?