CSKA MOSCOW v MAN CITY – Pellegrini plots muddy progress

As ‘Johnny Foreigner’ arriving in town, Manchester City never really expected a red carpet welcome to the Russian capital – they had however hoped for something better underfoot than a surface more suited to the ‘Cabbage Patch ‘dolls.

Forget any notions of the Russian steppes – those vast tracts of grassy treeless plains – Manuel Pellegrini’s men might be better off in their ‘wellies’ as they prepare to cope with Russian ruts in the Khimiki Arena – a pitch, which locals admit is more better suited to an allotment than Champions League football.

Moscow mission - Pellegrini & Fernandinho need to muddy through and grab 3 CL points tonight

Moscow mission – Pellegrini & Fernandinho need to muddy through and grab 3 CL points tonight

Even CSKA’s manager, the man with an unfortunate surname, more akin to a Muscovite lady of the night – Leonid Slutsky – concedes the playing surface is sub-standard, unless of course, root vegetables be your thing.

God forbid City’s firmly held belief of qualification for the knockout stages of the CL, come a cropper tonight. Any distasteful ‘Fleet Street’ photo-shopping of turnips onto Pellegrini’s head doesn’t much bear thinking about either – City just have to come through unscathed, both from a points and personnel perspective.

City will have to dig in and hold firm if they to get to grips with a pitch that could – if the rains come – resemble a scene from the trench-filled battlegrounds of the First World War, with plenty of mud…if not the bullets.

The military elements cannot be totally ignored given that CSKA – Central Sports Club of the Army – used to be the pride and joy of the former Soviet Union’s Communist regime – protectors of the Motherland be it on a football pitch or battle field.

Dirty job - City won't want any 'hartstopping' moments in Moscow as Joe aims for a clean sheet

Dirty job – City won’t want any ‘hartstopping’ moments in Moscow as Joe aims for a clean sheet

Who knows, playing on the mud heap in the capacity 18,630 Khimiki Arena might ultimately prove preferable, to performing on the all weather (plastic) pitch in the giant 78,360 seater Luzhniki Stadium. The nigh on 60-year old ground is undergoing a facelift for the 2018 World Cup, so Joe Hart will be spared the erratic ball bounces that can embarrass keepers unfamiliar with the vagaries of a synthetic playing surface.

No, the lad from Shrewsbury and City’s collection of global football aristocracy need to get down and dirty and slog through mud heaps last encountered in the formative years of their careers.

A bad workman blames his tools, or so goes the adage, let’s hope that’s not an excuse that City will need to hide behind with blushes as red as the Kremlin walls.

Once again City will be missing the hugely influential Vincent Kompany – the Belgian Boulder – affording City the kind of protection that the Ural Mountains gave to huge swathes of the Soviet population during the Second World War.

Nasty streak - Matija Nastasic must step up in the absence of injured Captain Kompany

Nasty streak – Matija Nastasic must step up in the absence of injured Captain Kompany

Pellegrini’s biggest selection dilemma is in central defence with only Matija Nastasic looking nailed on. Does City’s Chilean stick with the mobility and ball playing of stand-in Javi Garcia, or is CSKA, the kind of opponent who will play a conventional centre forward for Joleon Lescott to nullify.

Does the combination of speed and power require Micah Richards, outstanding at right back in the 3-1 win over West Ham, to switch to the centre and facilitate the return of Pablo Zabaleta at RB?

Action man - marauding Micah Richards will surely start against CSKA?

Action man – marauding Micah Richards will surely start against CSKA?

Experienced Argentine veteran defender Martin Demichelis will surely not figure, having been deemed as not match fit for the trip to the Hammers? What difference can 3-4 days make?

Even with the injuries in the defensive corps, City should be able to down the Russian champions and garner three crucial Group D points.

The triumvirate of Aguero, Silva and Negredo is rapidly developing as a WMD – weapon of Manchester destruction – with the trio slicing through domestic defences, so why not export the service to the continent?

Fernandinho is increasingly looking the part and, along with Yaya Toure, both are more than aware of the challenges of Russian football, having earned a crust in the neighbouring Ukraine.

Surprise start - could Edin Dzeko be back in at CSKA as Pellegrini eyes Chelsea clash?

Surprise start – could Edin Dzeko be back in at CSKA as Pellegrini eyes Chelsea clash?

CSKA have lost five of their last seven games in all competitions, so they are not a team in form. City, with two encouraging performances and wins against Everton and West Ham, have very reason to be optimistic.

A victory in Moscow and then a win in the return fixture on Bonfire Night would virtually guarantee City’s passage through to the last 16 of the CL – unchartered, but very welcome territory.

The Russians will offer up some global resistance of their own in the shape of combative Japanese midfielder Keisuke Honda – often linked with potential moves to the Premier League – as well as prolific Ivory Coast striker Doumbia who’s bagged 40 goals in just 67 appearances since switching continents.

The man who City will most want to see the back of is CSKA’s Russian national team goalkeeper the 64-times capped 27-year old Igor Akinfeev.

A regular under ex- England coach, Fabio Capello, Akinfeev is heading for next year’s World Cup Finals in Brazil, but the sight of him bending over to pick the ball out his net tonight would be most welcome.

Champions League progress beyond the Group Stage is an imperative for Pellegrini – that’s been made crystal clear by the City hierarchy.

Having avoided the clichéd, but nonetheless, crippling  ‘Group of Death’ this time out, City will have no excuses, certainly not a dodgy patch of Muscovite turf, if it goes pear-shaped.

Three points and the emergence of  28 intact lower limbs (if Pellegrini utilises all three substitutes) would be a glorious outcome tonight, before red turns to royal blue and City focus on a titanic PL table topper with Chelsea on Sunday.

#TrustOurMP

 

By David Walker

www.readbutneverred.com

@djwskyblu

 

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