When Manuel Pellegrini arrived at the Etihad he was handed an extensive ‘to do’ list by Manchester City’s CEO Ferran Soriano, a list which famously comprised the winning of five major trophies in the next three seasons.
Whereas it’s far early to be dusting off the cheque book and investing in a deluxe silverware cleaning kit, City’s manager has been able to put a dirty big tick in the first box on that list, after qualifying for the last 16 of the Champions League.
READ BUT NEVER RED has always put great store on the #TrustOurMP strapline, it would be lovely to be able to replace it and label the City boss ‘Mr Sheen’ on account of having so much to polish in the trophy cabinet.
The earliest that could possibly happen is March 2nd and the Capital One Cup Final, by which time Pellegrini and City will be halfway to knowing if their Champions League odyssey is to continue into the quarter final stage.
A thoroughly deserved and entertaining 5-2 routing of Russia’s finest, guaranteed City’s progression out of Group D and into the hitherto unchartered waters of the knockout stages of the CL.
Those waters stand a very good chance of being Mediterranean with Barcelona or either Real or Atletico Madrid shaping up as likely opponents, as things stand. There’s also a 25% possibility of a hop across the English Channel and the Seine proposition of PSG.
Much depends on whether Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal qualify as group winners or runners-up. There is also the possibility, faint as it may be, that City go to Munich on December 10th and win by two goals or more, having scored at least three to actually beat Bayern to top slot.
So many ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’ and all based on a presumption that City will boost their CL points haul to 12 when Viktoria Plzen visit the Etihad later this month.
Whatever awaits, it’s a great position for Pellegrini to have qualified with a third of the matches still to play. It’s a luxury never afforded to the luckless Roberto Mancini in his two CL campaigns, where he was ‘rewarded’ with consecutive ‘Groups of Death’.
The ex-City boss was quick to congratulate his former team on their progression. Who knows, Bobby Manc may yet join City in the last 16 if his new charges – Galatasaray – can maintain second place in their group and deny FC Copenhagen and Juventus.
It says a lot about Pellegrini that far from resting on any laurels, he immediately declared his intention to try and overhaul the reigning European Champions by beating Bayern in the Allianz Arena.
Many would have thought that his focus would have switched to the four vital Premier League games either side of the two remaining CL encounters.
With City five points behind an Arsenal team that suddenly looks like the real deal after a monumental away win at Borussia Dortmund, surely Pellegrini’s priorities should be 12 points from home games against Spurs and Swansea and then away to Southampton before a home shootout with…Arsenal.
Time will tell and wisdom will prevail as more and more of City’s support begin to come round to a mindset where they do indeed trust their MP.
One look at how the Chilean chief’s summer signings are now settling into City’s team can only instil confidence that The Engineer knows his trade.
Alvaro Negredo’s hat-trick took his season’s tally to nine. The Beast is having a feast and considering he cost just over a third of Edinson Cavani’s £60m transfer fee from Napoli to PSG, he even looks a bargain.
The Spanish striker has hit a rich seam and formed a formidable understanding with City’s undoubted man of the moment, Sergio Aguero.
Aguero’s soon to be ex-father-in-law the dodgy, deceitful, drug-taking Diego Maradona is tarred with his infamous ‘Hand of God’ antics that knocked England out of the 1986 World Cup.
Well if he has the hand of the Almighty, I reckon Super Sergio can lay claim to God’s feet because he is in heavenly form with 13 goals from 13 appearances so far.
His brace, to put City 2-0 up inside 20 minutes, made him City’s all-time top scorer in European competitions with 12. City fans can only pray that he stays around for years to come to double, treble or even quadruple that Euro goal haul.
On a night when bonfires burned bright, Aguero’s play was the hottest thing around as he also turned provider with a perfect pinpoint pass for Negredo’s opener, as City went 3-0 up on the half hour.
There were magnificent fireworks both on and off the field at the Etihad, but Matija Nastasic and Gael Clichy provided two suitably dim moments, allowing CSKA to somewhat falsify the score, with two goals that flattered the visitors.
The young Serbian centre back – undoubtedly destined for great things with City – was slow to push out of defence, enabling the lively Seydou Doumbia to pull it back to 3-1 on the stroke of half time.
The Ivory Coast striker must have been torn by the racist taunts directed at his fellow countryman, Yaya Toure, in Moscow, and bringing pleasure to some of those who indulged in the disgusting practice.
Thankfully there was no repeat of the monkey noises, although the 800 CSKA fans who did make it to Manchester in a sober condition, were heard to chant something along the lines of ‘F U Yaya’ or ‘Death to Yaya’. All very cultured and encouraging for the 2018 World Cup Finals, I’m sure!
Yaya had the pleasure of lofting a beautiful pass through to Nasri, whose unselfish lay off gave Negredo his second tap-in around the 51st minute mark.
Clichy rather needlessly hauled Doumbia down in the penalty area 20 minutes later and the CSKA man dispatched his penalty past Costel Pantilimon, who was making his CL debut in goal.
The final piece of pyrotechnical activity on the field of play was delivered by James Milner whose perfect cross was nodded into the net by the now well fed Beast.
5-2 and a job very well done on an illuminating night of kaleidoscopic capers.
Next up is the Stadium of Light and a Sunderland side with an annoying habit of beating City 1-0 for three seasons on the run, despite being outplayed every time..
It’s a must win. If not, the Champions League firework display will soon lose some of its sparkle.
By David Walker
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