LONDON • Manchester City manager Manuel Pellegrini has told his side that they have to win the Champions League to be considered a great team.
City have yet to progress beyond the last 16 of European football's elite club competition. And they begin a new campaign against Juventus tomorrow with doubts over the fitness of key players Sergio Aguero, David Silva and Raheem Sterling.
Silva (ankle) and Sterling (hamstring) missed the 1-0 win at Crystal Palace on Saturday, when Kelechi Iheanacho was the unlikely match winner.
But Pellegrini's reliance on the Nigerian teenager showed that his forward options were stretched following a 17th-minute injury to Aguero.
The Argentina striker was kicked on the knee by Scott Dann and remains a doubt against the Italian champions even though he tweeted after the match that it was not a serious injury.
It is impossible for you to be remembered as a great team if you do not win the Champions League.
MANUEL PELLEGRINI, Manchester City manager
Iheanacho scored the 90th- minute winner at Selhurst Park moments after appearing as a late substitute in only his second appearance for City.
He outshone £54 million (S$118 million) new boy Kevin de Bruyne, on as a replacement for Aguero for his City debut, and helped maintain the club's perfect start to the season. City have also gone six top-flight games without conceding a goal - a club record.
But Pellegrini has urged his side to make history in Europe.
"It is impossible for you to be remembered as a great team if you do not win the Champions League," he said. "Of course we have been a great team in England because it is not easy to win two titles in four years and be runners-up in the other two seasons."
Iheanacho is not in City's Champions League squad but Pellegrini expects the Nigeria Under-20 international to play a significant role in City's Premier League title challenge. After all, the player's development persuaded him he did not need to bring in a replacement after Edin Dzeko left for Roma.
"He's a very important player for us. He's just 18 and started working with our squad last season, but he was unlucky and had a big injury in the last three months of the season," said the Chilean.
"This year he started pre-season with the squad and will be a very important player for the future."
With Chelsea having lost at Everton earlier on Saturday, the leaders already have an 11-point advantage over the reigning champions and lie five points clear of both Manchester United and Arsenal.
"It's important to have a good start," Pellegrini said. "It's an important gap. We were eight points behind last year and, in January, were level.
"If you lose points at the beginning, you can lose them at other parts of the year. We have to continue playing the way we are."
The result was tough on a Palace side who started the day in second spot. The tension at the top was evident in Palace boss Alan Pardew's reaction to Yaya Toure's challenge on James McArthur, which sparked an angry exchange between the two managers.
"I was a bit incensed by the tackle and went past Manuel's box, and he wasn't particularly pleased about that," Pardew said. "But I didn't say anything, retreated back to my box and was a good boy."