As football clichés go a ‘must win’ game is up there with the best.
Mathematically, Manchester City could still qualify from Group E of the Champions League, even if they fail to beat CSKA Moscow at the Etihad this evening.
In truth, anything less than three points would see City in a right old mire with their backs well and truly to the wall, struggling to reach the knockout stages.
It’s a vital game for Manuel Pellegrini’s team and one that promises to begin with City’s supporters turning their backs to the pitch as UEFA’s evocative ‘Champions Theme’ blasts out prior to kick-off.
Large portions of an anticipated capacity crowd are planning a symbolic display of contempt for European football’s controlling body, following its disgraceful handling of affairs in Moscow a fortnight ago.
The racist ridden and universally reviled Russian champions had been ordered to play home fixtures behind closed doors, punishment for the appalling behaviour of rioting CSKA fans in the opening group game in Rome.
City’s travelling fans were also denied admission to the 18,600 Arena Khimki, and yet 350 or so CSKA yobs were clearly seen and heard cheering their side during the 2-2 draw, as the Sky Blues squandered a two-goal lead.
Worse still, UEFA have since commuted the original three-match ban to two e.g. the games already played against Bayern Munich and City, and halved a £158,000 to £79,000.
No action is being taken about CSKA flouting the ban against City, and the revolting Russian club’s thuggish following will now be able to attend their final home game against Roma on November 25th.
It’s yet another shining example of UEFA malpractice and one that sickens followers of the game. City and visiting Bayern Munich fans are planning a unified ‘backs to the Champions League anthem’ protest when they meet at the Etihad, the same night as the Muscovite mob and any AS Roma supporters turn up at the Arena Khimki.
CSKA fans are supposed to be banned from attending in Manchester and no tickets were allocated to the Russians.
One can only hope that if any Moscow fans do find their way in to the game – and clearly display their colours – they are immediately ejected.
Forget any notions of liberalism on this, the night that celebrates the thwarting of the plot to blow up Parliament in 1605, City need to put a rocket up the Russians both on and off the pitch!
A 45,000 crowd need to make the visitors feel as welcome as flatulence in a Russian cosmonaut’s space suit and make it a red hot reception on a cold night in Manchester.
Without the services of David Silva, Frank Lampard and Aleksander Kolarov, City still have more than enough firepower to do what they did in the first half in Moscow – annihilate their opponents.
It’s one of football’s great unsolved mysteries as to what befell Manchester City in that horror show of a second half , albeit the Russians had a 12th man in the form of the Hungarian referee.
City will be buoyed by victory in the weekend’s tetchy Manchester derby, a 1-0 win which ‘should’ve been six’, had another dodgy referee awarded three penalties to the Sky Blues – therefore signalling a Manure collapse.
Sergio Aguero is as hot as any bonfire in the kingdom with 13 goals this season and, with confidence revived, City have to press home their superiority.
Hopefully Pellegrini will cease tinkering with the defence and will field the same back four as Sunday, namely Zabaleta, Kompany, Demichelis and Clichy.
A settled defence has to be the way forward to providing firm foundations and getting City back on track, especially with Aleksander Kolarov out of contention for a month, after injuring his calf in the warm up before the derby.
Eliaquim Mangala has recovered from a thigh strain and, at £32m, clearly represents the future at centre back for City. Conversely the composed, established and experienced Martin Demichelis has to be the here and now, alongside skipper Vincent Kompany.
Yaya, now showing signs of last season’s Toure-de-Force, is instrumental in City’s recovery plan in Group E. Samir Nasri, having shaken off any ring rust following surgery, will now be relied upon in the creativity department in Silva’s absence.
A win, preferably by a handsome margin, given Roma’s 5-1 home demolition of CSKA, could put City’s Champions League fate back in their own hands.
If Bayern Munich can go even close at the Allianz Arena tonight, to emulating their spectacular 7-1 win in Rome, City will be in second place in Group E, a point clear of Roma with a superior goal difference.
Pellegrini is often – and with some justification – criticised for his almost religious adherence to a 4-4-2 formation. City have been outgunned in midfield on several occasions against high calibre Champions League opponents, but CSKA cannot be considered in that bracket.
If City can’t see off this Russian rabble with a 4-4-2, a 4-4-1-1 or a 4-5-1, then they surrender any aspirations of being part of the seating plan at European football’s top table.
Notwithstanding UEFA’s attempts to spike City’s guns with Financial Fair (Foul) Play restrictions, Pellegrini needs to engineer Champions League progression in the eyes of the club’s owner.
Forget about ‘must win’, if it’s a case of ‘can’t win’ then City will be a laughing stock across Europe. That must not happen.
By David Walker
www.readbutneverred.com @ReadButNeverRed @djwskyblu