Joe Hart wants Manchester City to tackle Dynamo Kiev with the belief they are potential Champions League winners.
City travel to the Ukrainian capital for the round-of-16 first leg on Wednesday as favourites to progress, a marked departure from expectations of a swift exit after being pitted against Barcelona in each of the past two seasons.
But Manuel Pellegrini’s side head into the clash on a damaging run of three consecutive defeats, with title rivals Leicester City and Tottenham inflicting back-to-back home Premier League losses on City for the first time since December 2008.
The Chilean coach passed up the chance to atone for those setbacks by playing a youthful team in the FA Cup fifth round at Chelsea.
Pellegrini pointed to a lengthy injury list and the match being moved to a Sunday kick-off for television coverage – eating into his preparation time for facing Dynamo – and a City team featuring five full-debutants were duly dispatched 5-1.
Hart and his more familiar colleagues will return to the starting XI at NSK Olimpiyskiy in a pivotal week for their season, with this Sunday’s League Cup final against Liverpool on the horizon, and the England goalkeeper is hungry for success.
“We’ve got to believe that [City can win the Champions League], or else there is no point in turning up on Wednesday,” the 28-year-old told his club’s official website.
“We’ve got to believe that we’ve got what it takes. You know, it’s the best of the best, and if you’re not at your best you will lose, simple as that, in this competition. So it’s all about peaking for the game and being in the right place at the right time.
“The majority of the time when it comes to the Champions League we’re still fighting on all fronts, and this is a good time to be a Manchester City player and a good time to be fighting.”
Hart’s opposite number is likely to be Dynamo’s veteran captain Oleksandr Shovkovskiy, who was part of the team when his club reached the semi-finals in 1999.
Now 41, he told UEFA.com: “In the round of 16 we are up against a strong side in Manchester City – a team of world stars.
“But they have their own difficulties and problems, and they have their own approach to the game. My feeling is that we can stand up to City and advance further.”
Pellegrini’s concerns centre around fixture congestion for a stretched squad – Kevin De Bruyne (knee), Fabian Delph (Achilles), Samir Nasri (thigh), Eliaquim Mangala and Jesus Navas (both hamstring) will all miss out, while Bacary Sagna (knee) and Wilfried Bony (calf) are unlikely to start.
The reverse is true for Kiev boss Serhiy Rebrov.
Dynamo’s 1-0 win over Maccabi Tel Aviv on December 9, which sealed progression to the last-16 for the first time since 1999-00, was their most recent competitive match.
They have since won seven, drawn three and lost three of 13 friendly matches in the interim period, while new signings Oleksandr Yakovenko and Nikita Korzun join goalkeeper Artur Rudko – back from a loan spell at Goverla Uzhgorod – as additions to Rebrov’s European squad. Artem Kravets, Younes Belhanda and Niko Kranjcar make way.
“It depends how you want to look at it, they’re either well rested or they could be rusty, with the format of their league season,” said Hart, who played in both legs when City suffered a 2-1 aggregate Europa League defeat to Dynamo in March 2011.
“But that will be decided after the game. We expect a strong challenge.”
Key Opta stats
– English teams have won none of their last five away games against Ukrainian opposition in the Champions League (D3 L2). The last success came in October 2007, when City’s rivals Manchester United beat Dynamo 4-2.
– None of Manchester City’s previous 34 Champions League games have ended in a goalless draw. Only Basel (46) have played more matches in the competition without registering a 0-0.
– Victory over Maccabi Tel Aviv was Dynamo Kiev’s only success in their past five Champions League home games (D3 L1).
– Manchester City fielded the oldest squad in this season’s group stages, with an average age of 29 years old.
– Sergio Aguero has scored 15 goals in his last 16 Champions League starts.