Worth ‘mortally wounding’ the FA Cup for, as the prosecution would have you believe. Manuel Pellegrini’s decision to rest his key players against Chelsea may have increased the pressure on his side’s result in Kyiv tenfold, but Manchester City’s dominance was an emphatic and immediate vindication. Those waiting to say “You sacrificed the FA Cup for that?!” will have gone to bed scowling.
It was not a perfect night, as such things never are. City have now kept just one clean sheet in their last 22 Champions League matches, Yaya Toure and Sergio Aguero both missed presentable chances and City could have been awarded two penalties. Yet this was as good as Pellegrini’s side have been in the last two months. Effervescent, energetic and a joy to behold.
It was Dave Kidd in the Daily Mirror who wrote that Pellegrini and City ‘should not be excused for tossing off a trophy they might have lifted’ for a better shot at the Champions League. The counsel for the defence may remind the court that City are now the first English side to win a knockout first leg in the Champions League for almost four years.
Kidd described this competition as one that City ‘shouldn’t have a pussycat in hell’s chance of winning’, but they already have one foot and three toes in the quarter-finals. City have never before reached that stage, and no club will especially want to be drawn against them.
There is no doubt that City’s task was aided by a sluggish, sleepy opposition who were the very antonym of ‘Dynamo’. Sergei Rebrov’s side have not played a competitive game for 11 weeks, and it showed. Andriy Yarmolenko was the predictable bright spark, but also the only home player capable of shielding the ball. Lukasz Teodorczyk was left embarrassingly isolated after only 25 minutes of the home first leg. None of Dynamo’s 13 friendly games during their winter break had prepared them adequately for this test.
Yet City deserve plenty of credit for their high-intensity display. They pinned Dynamo back, forcing nine backpasses in the first 25 minutes alone. In the first half, all ten of City’s outfield players gained possession from an opponent at least twice; only David Silva and Sergio Aguero failed to reach three.
Where City really excelled was at both ends of the pitch. In defence, Nicolas Otamendi produced one of his best performances of the season, while Vincent Kompany added steel and resolve in his first away game since November. No City player made more clearances, tackles or interceptions than their captain, who modestly played down his influence after the game. Eliaquim Mangala and Martin Demichelis will both be an unwelcome presence in this team between now and May. When called upon, Joe Hart’s strong hand crucially kept the score at 2-1.
In the final third, we saw again the understanding between Silva, Aguero and Raheem Sterling that has been missing during a run of four goals in as many games. Never was that more evident than in the flowing move for City’s second, all three attackers playing their role to perfection. Aguero now has 16 in his last 17 European starts; Sterling has three goals and two assists in his last four games in this competition. The 21-year-old was the game’s best player.
For Pellegrini, justification for his bold Sunday call ahead of four games in 11 days. Since the announcement over his summer departure, the Chilean’s willing to treat every competition equally has understandably evaporated. He did not have to respect tradition, but prioritise. The next three months act as an exercise in CV improvement. Try and win the competitions that you’ll be remembered for, and stuff the rest – unless you’ve already reached the final.
This week started with accusations of Manuel Pellegrini insulting and degrading a cup competition. It could end with Manchester City triumph in the League Cup following serene progress in Europe. Now don’t be sad, ’cause two out of three ain’t bad.