Pellegrini vindicated as City seal emphatic victory
UEFA Champions League
Wednesday 24 February 2016, 19.45 KO
City: Hart, Sagna, Otamendi, Kompany, Clichy, Fernando, Toure, Fernandinho, Sterling, Silva, Aguero (Iheanacho 91)
Unused: Caballero, Zabaleta, Demichelis, Mangala, Kolarov, Garcia
Goals: Aguero (15), Silva (40), Toure (90)
Referee: Antonio Lahoz
Man of the match: Sterling
City have one foot in the last eight of the Champions League after this comprehensive victory at the Olympic Stadium in Kiev. Goals from Sergio Aguero, David Silva and Yaya Toure have put the Blues firmly in control of this tie, and it would be a huge shock if Manuel Pellegrini's side weren't in the draw for the quarter-finals on March 18th.
Pellegrini will feel vindicated following this performance, after being subject to fierce criticism for effectively throwing the FA Cup by fielding a team of youngsters at Stamford Bridge on Sunday. Unhelpful scheduling from the authorities, coupled with a crippling injury list, left Pellegrini with little choice but to prioritise competitions. Competing on four fronts simply wasn't sustainable in the circumstances.
Kiev started brightly, with Andriy Yarmolenko a threat on the right hand side, but City weathered the early storm and soon imposed themselves on the game. Fernando and Nicolas Otamendi, in particular, snapped at their opponent's heels, frequently intercepting the ball and putting City on the front foot. Fernandinho, no stranger to these surroundings from his time at Shakhtar Donetsk, was deployed in an unfamiliar right wing position, and Pellegrini's tactical switch paid dividends as the Blues dominated midfield.
City took the lead after 15 minutes, when Toure cleverly nodded Silva's corner into the path of Aguero, who finished emphatically past the 41 year old Shovkovskiy in the Kiev net. Serhiy Rebrov's side hadn't played a competitive game since December due to their domestic winter break, and their rustiness showed. The Blues doubled their advantage five minutes before the break, when Aguero and Raheem Sterling combined to set up Silva at the far post. Moments later Aguero almost added a third, but saw his shot flash past the post.
It was an impressive opening 45 minutes from City, arguably their best performance since the 3-1 victory at Sevilla back in November. Kiev rallied in the second half, as expected in front of a partisan 60,000 crowd, and reduced the deficit after an hour when Vitaliy Buyalskiy's shot deflected off Otamendi, leaving Joe Hart with no chance. City had a couple of penalty appeals waved away by referee Lahoz, who was otherwise excellent, before Buyalskiy forced a smart save from Hart.
The Blues remained a constant threat on the counter attack, with Sterling turning in another outstanding European performance. The England winger seems to thrive on the biggest stage, and was deservedly man of the match. His cross found Toure unmarked in the box after 83 minutes, but the Ivorian headed wide with the goal gaping. It mattered little when, in the final minute, Toure linked up with Fernandinho before unleashing a superb left footed strike into the top corner. It was no more than City deserved, and should make the return tie in Manchester in three weeks time a formality.
The win ends a run of three successive defeats, the worst of Pellegrini's reign, and the manager will be hoping that this performance can be a springboard for the remainder of his final season at the club. Back to back games against Liverpool now lie ahead, and could potentially define City's season, but confidence will be high after such an empathic display.