Pellegrini must deliver after FA Cup fiasco, says Gary Lim
After FA Cup fiasco, Pellegrini needs to redeem himself with a victory in Kiev
ROUND OF 16, 1ST LEG
DYNAMO KIEV v MAN CITY
(Tomorrow, 3.45am, Singtel TV Ch 112 & StarHub TV Ch 212)
Manuel Pellegrini warned his players not to underestimate Dynamo Kiev, their Champions League Round-of-16 rivals.
Well, there is little chance of Manchester City doing that tomorrow morning (Singapore time).
If anything, they paid their opponents the utmost respect.
With this European assignment in mind, they threw away their FA Cup fifth-round game against Chelsea last Sunday. Pellegrini fielded a significantly weakened team including five full debutants and the inexperienced side were humiliated 5-1.
Pellegrini copped plenty of flak for his team selection, and deservedly so.
What he must realise is that he has backed himself into a cul-de-sac.
Winning at the Kiev Olympic Stadium is the only dignified way out now, after how the Chilean presented their cup game to Chelsea on a platter by starting 11 players with just 48 Premiership starts between them this season.
Lose tomorrow, and the embarrassing episode turns into a farce.
Pellegrini insisted that he didn't have a choice, citing injuries and fixture congestion.
But Arsenal didn't let European duty become a convenient excuse.
Like City, they had to play an FA Cup match - against Hull City - three days before a Champions League outing, and that too, against Barcelona.
Although Arsene Wenger rested Mesut Oezil and left Alexis Sanchez, Francis Coquelin and Olivier Giroud out of the starting 11, the Gunners still fielded a reasonably strong side which played out a 0-0 home draw.
If it was Aston Villa or Newcastle deciding between Premiership survival and cup progress, there would have been some degree of sympathy.
But Pellegrini shot himself in the foot.
Their expensively assembled and huge squad were built precisely with the intention to meet the demands of an assault on multiple fronts.
Pellegrini surrendered the chance to halt a two-game losing streak.
Before the Chelsea cup tie, the Citizens had lost to Premier League title rivals Leicester City and Tottenham Hotspur at home in their last two matches.
Unwittingly, he has also created unwanted distraction and, with it, added pressure on his team to perform.
They face ring-rusty opponents who will be playing their first competitive match following a two-and-a-half-month winter break.
To maintain their sharpness, the Ukrainian champions have played 13 friendly matches, of which they won seven, drew three and lost three.
City will travel with a full defensive contingent for the first time in a long while.
But the team also enter this fixture on the back of a damaging run of three straight losses.
Nothing than a win tomorrow will appease the City fans.
Following the Kiev test, City will take on Liverpool in the League Cup final on Sunday.
England and City custodian Joe Hart believes this is exactly why it is so exciting to turn out for a big club.
He said ahead of tomorrow morning's match: "The majority of the time, when it comes to the Champions League, we're still fighting on all fronts, and this is a good time to be a Manchester City player and a good time to be fighting."
A pity though, Pellegrini didn't seem to relish the fight as much as his goalkeeper.
BY THE NUMBERS
English teams have not won their last five away games against Ukrainian opposition in the Champions League.
Manchester City striker Sergio Aguero (below) has scored 15 goals in his last 16 Champions League starts.
Man City fielded the oldest squad in this season's group stages, with an average age of 29 years old.
HART: WE CAN WIN CHAMPS LEAGUE
With Barcelona and Bayern Munich in imperious form, nobody would give Manchester City any chance of winning this season's Champions League.
Goalkeeper Joe Hart has other ideas, though. The England No. 1
believes the Citizens can taste European glory if they have the belief.
City take on Dynamo Kiev in the first leg of their Round-of-16 tie in the Ukrainian capital tomorrow morning (Singapore time).
Beating Kiev would take Manuel Pellegrini's side into the quarter-finals for the first time, but goalkeeper Hart (above) feels the key to success is believing the team can go all the way.
The 28-year-old told the club's website: "We've got to believe that (City can win it), or else there is no point in turning up on Wednesday.
"We've got to believe that we've got what it takes.
"You know, it's the best of the best and, if you're not at your best, you will lose, simple as that, in this competition.
"So it's all about peaking for the game and being in the right place at the right time."
City trained prior to their departure on Monday and defenders Eliaquim Mangala and Bacary Sagna were both involved, raising the possibility they could be back in contention in Kiev.
Kevin de Bruyne, Jesus Navas, Samir Nasri, Fabian Delph and Wilfried Bony remain on the sidelines.
The two clubs met previously in the last 16 of the Europa League in 2010/11. On that occasion, City crashed out despite a 1-0 home win, having gone down 2-0 at Dynamo's old Valeriy Lobanovskyi Stadium.
Tomorrow morning, the Kiev Olympic Stadium will be the venue for the first-leg clash.
"They were very good, they scored some good goals against us - it was really tough actually, a real tough double-header for us," Hart told uefa.com.
"The stadium was obviously different. I've played in the stadium since in the Euros, we had some good games there in 2012, and I'm looking forward to another one."
This will be the Ukrainian champions' first official match after a two-and-a-half-month winter break, during which they have tried to maintain 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.
They have also made a plea to their fans to behave during the game after the club had initially been ordered by Uefa to play the tie in an empty stadium following incidents in the match against Chelsea in October. However, Uefa reduced the sanction after an appeal.
"It depends how you want to look at it, they're either well rested or they could be rusty," said Hart.
They're obviously in a strong position - to be in the last 16 of the Champions League. They're well proven in Europe, so it's going to be a tough game, especially with a really tough away leg to start with."
City winger Raheem Sterling knows it will be not be easy against Kiev.
"Any team in the Champions League, you can most definitely expect it to be a tough one, especially going to their home ground at first," the England international said.
"It will be definitely a different atmosphere and something that we're looking forward to.
"It will be a really good test for us." - Wire Services.