Football: City's season at stake

Manchester City manager Manuel Pellegrini will be hoping his controversial decision to pick a weakened side against Chelsea pays off when his big guns return for their Champions League clash with Dynamo Kiev tomorrow
Manchester City manager Manuel Pellegrini will be hoping his controversial decision to pick a weakened side against Chelsea pays off when his big guns return for their Champions League clash with Dynamo Kiev tomorrow. PHOTO: REUTERS

Time for Pellegrini's rotation to yield rewards after he rested stars with crucial matches in mind

KIEV • Manchester City must reboot their faltering season with a big performance in their Champions League last-16, first-leg trip to Dynamo Kiev today or risk a potentially ruinous fortnight.

With their English Premier League title hopes badly dented by successive home losses to fellow contenders Leicester City and Tottenham Hotspur, City received heavy criticism for fielding a second-string team in Sunday's embarrassing FA Cup capitulation at Chelsea.

Suddenly, the lavishly-funded team who had been campaigning for four titles now find their season in danger of careering off the rails. And it could get a lot worse on Sunday if City fail to lift the League Cup following their final against Liverpool.

 

That title decider was one of the reasons why Manuel Pellegrini picked a weakened team in the FA Cup, and the City manager will have another selection dilemma today.

The Chilean has plenty of midfielders sidelined, with Fabian Delph, Kevin de Bruyne, Jesus Navas and Samir Nasri all injured.

As such, an adventurous 4-4-2 line-up - with Sergio Aguero and Kelechi Iheanacho leading the line - looks to be his best bet on paper to ensure a positive result.

Yet Pellegrini will be mindful of how City were exposed when they used that formation in the Champions League last season, particularly against eventual champions Barcelona when midfielder Yaya Toure failed to track back.

City have recorded some of their best results in Europe's elite club competition when Pellegrini opted for a 4-2-3-1 system, with Fernando in an anchoring role.

Fernando, however, played for 78 minutes on Sunday and would be involved in his second game in four days should he feature against Kiev.

The Ukrainian champions are the outsiders, having reached the knockout stages for the first time since they were beaten by Bayern Munich in the 1999 semi-finals.

This will also be their first official match after a 21/2-month winter break, during which they have tried to maintain their sharpness in a series of friendlies.

Kiev's key concern is the physical shape of winger Andriy Yarmolenko, who spent two months on the sidelines with a knee injury suffered in the final game of the group stage against Maccabi Tel Aviv.

But Pellegrini, a former Malaga manager, knows all about the role of the underdogs, having led the unheralded La Liga outfit to the quarter-finals of the 2012-13 Champions League.

"If we think that it will be easy then, for sure, we will be eliminated," he told The Mirror. "I will always put up the example of Malaga.

"Everyone wanted to play us because they thought it would be easy, but we beat some good teams. The performance and the result is the important thing, not the team we are playing. We must play a very good game if we want to qualify."

REUTERS

DYNAMO KIEV V MAN CITY
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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 24, 2016, with the headline 'CITY'S SEASON AT STAKE'. Print Edition | Subscribe