LATE drama in Spain between Sevilla and Juventus, and at the Etihad where Manchester City scored three late goals to secure three points saw Manuel Pellegrini’s side finish top spot in Group D.
It’s the first time in their four year European exploits that the Blues have finished top of the group and in theory secure an easier last 16 tie.
There were a pattern of late goals, penalties and own goals throughout the group stage campaign, Callum Matthews analyses City’s Champions League group stage campaign.
RECAP: How Manuel Pellegrini’s side got on in the group stages…
It may be judged as City’s most successful Champions League campaign yet, because it’s the first time the Blues have finished top of the group. However if luck was slightly more against them throughout the group, City would have struggled to make it through. It seems extreme but it’s true.
The late winners against Borussia Monchengladbach away, Sevilla at home and the late drama against Monchengladbach at home have papered over the cracks of what could have been a disastrous campaign for City truth be told.
They started the group slowly, and although they took the lead against Juventus in matchday one, they were fairly poor and the performance once again highlighted that they were far from the finished article in Europe. They struggled to handle the quality of Paul Pogba – similarly to the way they have struggled with Luka Modric and Andreas Iniesta in previous campaigns. Lessons didn’t appear to have been learnt despite the £150m overhaul of the squad over the summer.
Although three points followed against both Monchengladbach and Sevilla the performances were far from convincing and once again highlighted the Blues defensive frailties.
The win against Sevilla, Spain’s oldest club, was what many thought introduced City to the European stage after four seasons of disappointment. It was by far the clubs most complete performance and highlighted the potential that on their day Pellegrini’s side possess.
In the win against the Spaniards, who have finished third and qualified for the Europa League – a tournament they’ve won the previous two years – City’s so called ‘star’ players David Silva and Sergio Aguero weren’t in the matchday squad through injury and Kevin De Bruyne started on the bench. The team was steely and gritty and was part of the reason that the Blues ran out comfortable winners. Pellegrini needs to be more aware and flexible in his team selection at times, particularly in Europe, and be willing to select his hard working more gritty players instead of his perceived match winning players.
A disappointing performance followed in Turin where City had the opportunity to secure top spot and the much needed opportunity to rest players in the final group game against Monchengladbach. However the performance didn’t live up to expectations – which has often been the theme in City’s European exploits some may say cynically.
Although they had opportunities to score in the game, they were never in control throughout the game and it was a sense of deja vu for a lot of City fans.
Going into the final game against Monchengladbach, City knew they had a difficult task to finish top of the group, but it’s often in those circumstances where the Blues thrive – as proved on the cold, wet Tuesday night.
A dominant first 20 minutes was followed by what’s becoming a typical 25 minute lapse where the Germans – who had been unbeaten in the 12 games since the Blues visited the Borussia Park – dominated and passed Pellegrini’s side off the park and deservedly led going into the break.
However City were dominant throughout the second half and you always had the feeling that once they scored the equaliser they would win the game.
There was a large feeling on discontent amongst the City faithful when Pellegrini substituted De Bruyne, but his decision was justified and showed a tactical acuteness that the Chilean has been accused of lacking numerous times during his spell at the Etihad.
Combined with the result in Seville (and for some the result in Wolfsburg where United crashed out of the competition) it turned out to be the perfect night and group stage for the Citizens.
There were ups and downs throughout and although the Blues progressed fairly comfortably in the end, City don’t appear to have made any real progress in Europe this year and it could be a frustrating last 16 and beyond again.
IN NUMBERS: How City’s campaign looks in statistics
Teams City could get…
PSG, PSV, Gent, Benfica, Dynamo Kiev, Roma
When you look at the list of possible opponents there isn’t much that should scare City fans. PSG are the team City and their fans will want to avoid, but on their day Pellegrini’s side are capable of beating the French champions.
The more cynical City fans will no doubt have been looking at flights to France judging by previous Champions League draws.
Benfica are possibly the second team City don’t want but again you’d back the Blues to beat Rui Vitoria’s side who lost in the Europa League final to Sevilla in 2014.
Pellegrini’s team will probably want to avoid a trip to Kiev because of the travelling but if they get landed with the 3,500-mile round trip they should be confident of progressing seeming Chelsea claimed four points off the Ukrainian champions during the group stages.
PSV, Gent and Roma are all fairly short trips and should guarantee fairly easy progression for City in the last eight for the first time in their history.
By: Callum Matthews