Manchester City know what they have to do if they are to perform their own version of the Great Escape, and progress to the knockout stages of the Champions League.
Despite some illogical mathematically challenged elements of the anti-City media claiming it’s a ‘must win’ game, Manuel Pellegrini’s men know that a score draw will see them through, provided CSKA Moscow lose in Munich.
City are in the uncomfortable position of not controlling their own destiny but, given their dire European performances prior to the thrilling win over Bayern, they should be thankful they’re still in with a whisper, let alone a shout.
Rest assured, the decibels will ramp up to a roar if Rome falls to the Mancunian hordes and Moscow wither on the German front.
In the Italian capital – the Eternal City – hope is never ending that, despite the loss of the talismanic Aguero and the suspended Yaya Toure, there’s still enough firepower, experience and collective cool, to see them emerge ‘victorious’ from the‘Colosseum-esque’ Stadio Olimpico.
A returning quartet of David Silva, Vincent Kompany, Stevan Jovetic and Fernandinho plus the now available again Edin Dzeko and Aleksander Kolarov, give Pellegrini more options than seemed likely a few days ago.
Merlin the Spanish wizard, may be a tad rusty after missing the last eight games, but he is more than capable of sprinkling some magic dust on City’s creative play.
City will be going for the win – it’s not in Pellegrini’s DNA to play for the draw – but at least he has options.
It’s nice to have choice, just as long as it doesn’t lead to tactical confusion and indecision on the field. Kompany’s return should ensure focus and a purposeful performance.
Make no mistake City are more than capable of achieving the desired outcome, albeit they’ll be facing two of Roma’s stars who were missing from the 1-1 draw at the Etihad back in September.
Daniele de Rossi who, for something like three transfer windows, seemed on the verge of joining Roberto Mancini’s City, will be back to marshal his legion of men.
They number another combative player, often associated with a move to Manchester, Dutch midfielder Kevin Strootman, coveted by his countryman Louis Van Guttural, who wants to add him to his overpriced Gaalacticos.
Ironically, if City did prevail it could expedite Strootman’s departure to the Swamp, adding another splash of orange arrogance to Manure, a club clearly taking the pith with talk of the Trafford Troglodytes winning the Premier League!
Ashley Cole could be due another duel with ex-Chelsea team mate Super Frankie Lampard, whereas dangerous pensioner, Francesco Totti cannot be underrated, especially after scoring against City in the initial Group E tie.
The biggest potential influencing factor for the Romans comes in the shape of midfielders Miralem Pjanic, and the unlikely sounding Belgian, Radja Nainggolan.
Both impressed against City at the Etihad, particularly Bosnian, Pjanic.
The Sky Blues will need to have an indefatigable work ethic and a genuine belief in their own abilities. Silva, inevitably, will not be match fit and will therefore benefit from ‘runners’ around him.
James Milner fits the bill perfectly and can be easily accommodated if, as expected, Pellegrini opts for one up front in a 4-5-1 line up.
Who takes over from Sergio in a lone striker role – Dzeko or Jovetic?
City have to score, but it’s not as if they need an avalanche of goals. They need to pack the midfield and guard against Roma’s raking counter attacks.
Fernando needs to step up and afford protection to City’s backline. Renowned for his ball winning skills and tackling, he’s often far too easily dispossessed and prone to being pedestrian on the ball.
His reputation and nickname of ‘The Octopus’ was built on stellar FC Porto appearances in European competition, now would be a great time to do likewise for his new employers.
Fernandinho can provide another midfield engine and an in-form Nasri, can lighten the burden of expectation on Silva.
Champions League winner, Lampard could be a timely replacement from the bench if City need to replace a flagging Silva, chase the match or simply hang on to an advantage and see out the game
Zabaleta should get the nod over Sagna, whereas Clichy has earned his right to stay at left back following a run of excellent showings.
If Eliaquim Mangala is to make a meaningful contribution to City’s trophy hunt he needs to curb his rush to be rash in tackles and challenges.
Clearly a tremendous prospect, he has to stay on the pitch and ensure he isn’t sidelined with suspensions.
Pellegrini needs to decide if he can trust him in the Roman cauldron, ahead of the composure and experience of Martin Demichelis. It has to be a night for calm heads and clear thinking!
In a week when City have set down a supreme marker for the future with the official opening of the superb £200m City Football Academy, it’s the here and now on which they will be judged.
The loss of Aguero has left them wounded, but not fatally so, and a last ditch scramble out of Group E as runner up would go a long way to exorcizing City’s European demons.
1-1, 2-2, 3-3 – any score draw in Rome – and a version of Deutschland Uber Alles in Munich will be City’s ticket to ride. It will also re-define ‘must win’ in the vocabulary of the journalists who love to see City fail.
By David Walker
Read But Never Red is delighted to partner with Manchester City to be able to offer one lucky reader the chance to savour a behind–the-scenes journey around the Etihad in the company of a City Legend. We’ve already had a great response with dozens of entries.
For the opportunity to win two tickets for the superb £70 a-head Manchester City LEGENDS STADIUM & CLUB TOUR all you have to do is tell us is:
How many appearances did Jeff Whitley make in the City first team between 1996 & 2003?
You can enter the competition via a host of social media by using the #MCFCLegendsTour & stating the number of games Jeff played.
Please send your answers via:
www.readbutneverred.com – comments section
On Twitter @ReadButNeverRed using #MCFCLegendsTour
On Facebook https://www.facebook.com/readbutneverred
The competition closes at midnight on December 15th with the winner being drawn at random by a designated representative from Manchester City FC
www.readbutneverred.com @ReadButNeverRed @djwskyblu