Irony comes in many forms. The back pages of the UK’s newspapers this morning proved that it also comes in many fonts. ‘It’s swell for Pell’ danced on the back page of the Star, while ‘City look slick in Kiev’ provided some satisfying reading on that of the Independent. The Sun went with ‘Men City’ – an innovative pun presumably designed to reference the aggression in our display last night, and the Mirror with the simple, yet effective ‘Dynamite’.
And dynamite we were. It was a performance we’ve been craving since we disposed so ruthlessly of Sevilla in that 3-1 win in November. There were distinct similarities between what was our best showing of the season coming into this game and the victory in Kiev on Wednesday. The score was one of them – goals from Sergio Agüero, David Silva and Yaya Touré secured a 3-1 win, but more significantly, a system encouraging high pressing and stretching of the opposition’s defence was employed.
Speaking after the game and expertly shielding a ‘haha, f**k you’ grin behind his wrinkled lips, Manuel, for the umpteenth time this week, again explained his reasons for fielding a weakened side in the 5-1 FA Cup loss to Chelsea on Sunday.
“Having just 13 fit outfield players – it was a key decision to rest the team in the [FA Cup] game,” said Pellegrini.
“It was important for the way we had to play this game with lots of intensity.”
This time, he had the muscle-bound bodyguard of a comfortable victory in the last 16 of the Champions League behind him, backing up his every word with a fearsome glare. Three days on from Chelsea-gate City are now the only English team in the competition to have won the first leg of their match and represent the country’s best chance of reaching the quarter finals. So, after reconsidering, were City disrespecting the FA Cup or prioritising one they’ve been crucified for their failures in over the last five years?
We looked refreshed in this one. With Sterling and Fernandinho flanking and Silva pushed up behind Agüero, Dynamo struggled to work the ball up the pitch in the first half. Utilising Fernandinho in that unfamiliar role proved to be a master stroke from Pellegrini. It served to ease the pressure on Touré who, with his exceptional range of passing and composure on the ball, can be the metronome in these types of games; but it also filled a gap left by the ever-persevering Navas who brings both balance and work-rate to the side when fit. Silva was another who benefited from the Brazilian’s versatility and looked at his creative best in the number 10 position.
Fernandinho’s brilliance is well documented – he’s simply a superb footballer – but his compatriot Fernando’s is not. And so it was gratifying to see ‘The Octopus’ give his best performance to date in the urinal cake green and yellow shirt. Fernando was another key to our high energy display, completing 100% of his 45 passes and making two important interceptions on the night. The Brazilian is expected to be shown the door when Pep Guardiola begins his reign at the club this summer, but displays like this will certainly buy him more time in Manchester.
Sterling impressed, too. For a lad blessed with such blistering pace, I don’t think he runs at his man enough and his tendency to cut inside or turn back and play the ball to the full-back can lead to a breakdown in play. On Wednesday, the 21-year-old played to his strengths and tortured both Danilo Silva and his replacement Yehven Makarenko with a blend of speed and skill. His assist for our second goal means that he has now contributed to five goals in his last four Champions League appearances. Not bad for an overpriced waste of money.