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Manchester City advances to KO stage
Manchester City made history on Tuesday night, qualifying for the Champions League round of 16 for the first time with an emphatic 5-2 win over CSKA Moscow thanks to a pair of goals from Sergio Aguero and hat trick from Alvaro Negredo. The result also eliminated the Russian side from this year’s Champions League.
It was far easier for City that the final scoreline suggests, but City’s dominance was so total that the result never felt in doubt. The Sky Blues rarely had to move out of second gear and could have had a few more goals to boot. Tellingly, only Keisuke Honda, CSKA’s relentless and yet frustrated playmaker, was able to make an impact on the game for the Russians, and just the slightest one at that.
But City manager Manuel Pellegrini will not be satisfied on Tuesday night. While his team looks able to outscore any comers, they still have a very questionable central defense. The expensive and vaunted Fernandinho continues to underwhelm, and while his smart pass set up the opener, he disappeared soon after, to be yanked at the half for James Milner. What City will do against a team they cannot break down with pure firepower is an open question; how their talented but careless squad will keep their focus is another.
Will that dampen the celebrations in the center of this city? No.
City were off to the races early when David Silva was toppled in the box in only the third minute. Sent in after a clever flick from Fernandinho over the back line to a waiting Gael Clichy, Silva bulled his way towards the endline where Zoran Tosic stupidly took him out. Ref Carlos Carballo had no hesitation in pointing to the spot, and Aguero finished smartly, beating Igor Akinfeev to the keeper’s left with a rocket that blew through the Russian’s palms.
CSKA responded with a bit of pressure, exposing the laziness out wide that has been a consistent problem for Manchester City as Clichy and Matija Nastasic struggled to contain Honda, leading to a flurry of attacks down the far flank. But at the 20-minute mark, Samir Nasri slipped a through ball to Aguero, given a yard of space at the top left edge of the area. He took a step, turned his defender and then took another before firing through the legs of a retreating centerback and into the lower right corner of Akinfeev’s net.
That seemed to kill both the game and the atmosphere, as CSKA’s small group of fans in the South Stand sat silently while City’s supporters occasionally volleyed taunts -- about their racist treatment of Yaya Toure, of whether or not they were a yellow-clad Premier League team, and about whether or not they were really fit for this tournament.
The capper seemed to come when Negredo, dangerous all night, ran a give and go over space with Aguero that really should have been cut out. Aguero loped wide right and sent in a cutter across the face of Akinfeev’s net and behind all four CSKA defenders. It was a tap-in for Negredo and the game sagged just a bit more.
But the Russians sent a signal at the half that maybe this would not be a cakewalk after all. Tosic exploited that soggy City central defense with a routine looper up to Seydou Doumbia. Doumbia took the ball out wide right, rounded Costel Pantilimon and fired home at the death of the first half.
It was not to be. Five minutes after the restart, Toure lobbed another ball over CSKA’s hapless back line, Nasri speared it back across the face of goal to his right with the bottom of his boot, and Negredo walked it into the net. Negredo would cap his hat trick in stoppage with a fine header.
Had Clichy not needlessly fouled Doumbia with twenty to play, wrestling him to the turf with a move better suited to rugby than soccer, CSKA would not have nicked one back from the spot and City’s margin would have been that much greater.
However, that kind of carelessness is exactly what has cursed this City side this season. City sorely miss Vincent Kompany, battling a thigh injury that has never seemed to heal, and the club may have to go into the winter market and reinforce that leaky back line. How Pellegrini deals with these issues over the next two meaningless matches will be intriguing to see.
In the meantime, Piccadilly will be clad in blue. City are in while their hated rivals, Manchester United, must wait. And the Citizens have finally shed a stubborn failing in Europe. They await the knockout round, and come what may, this is farther than they have ever been.
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