Pellegrini gets the perfect start as City power home in the end
Plzen’s fight ended by three second-half goals
Viktoria Plzen 0 Manchester City 3: Manchester City finally produced the flying start to a Champions League campaign they had been seeking. After drawing against Napoli and losing to Real Madrid in their two previous opening group games in the competition, Manuel Pellegrini’s team departed the home of the Czech Republic champions with a convincing victory and all three points.
There is still work to be done for the new manager as he seeks to plot a path through the group stage, a feat never managed by his predecessor Roberto Mancini.
On this occasion, City were sluggish for passages, again lacking the spark that was missing for most of last season. The sight of Jesús Navas being withdrawn in the second half following an ineffective display summed this up, though Pellegrini will hardly grumble at the outcome of a contest in which the result was all important.
While the Chilean maintains the Premier League has equal status for the club, Pellegrini’s pedigree in this competition was a principal factor in his appointment as manager, the hope being he could right a wrong the €1 billion-plus investment has so far failed to address. He will hope his side can grow into a season that had so far stuttered as they did into this match.
As the half hour passed the tale had been of a laboured City going the closer of the two teams to opening the scoring with only the odd scare around Joe Hart’s goal. Vincent Kompany provided one of these with a back-pass from near halfway that forced Hart into a sliding clearance as Marek Bakos bore down, threatening to intercept.
Before this City should have taken the lead as they created a series of chances of which at least one should have been converted.
Navas, lining up on the right of a fluid 4-1-3-2, had a shot from the right that was tipped over for the first corner by Plzen’s goalkeeper Matus Kozacik. Samir Nasri delivered the dead-ball on to Dzeko’s head and his flick-on demanded to be finished by Yaya Touré. Instead, the Ivorian’s header found only the roof of the Plzen net.
The best of the visitor’s chances came in quick succession. Sergio Agüero skated through the home midfield and, as a gap opened up, the forward’s low strike skimmed across the turf, beyond Kozacik, only to rebound off his right post. Aleksandar Kolarov, playing for the injured Gaël Clichy, took aim with his left foot but hit the ball into Kozacik’s hands.
Kolarov also created a prime opening for Dzeko with a cross from his flank that found the No 10 at point-blank range from the Pilzen goalkeeper, but his header went straight at Kozacik who beat the ball away.
Throughout the half Plzen found joy through the left foot of Pavel Horvath, their 38-year-old captain, who exposed City’s vulnerability whenever he swung a delivery into their penalty area.
After Kolarov had been penalised for a foul, Horvath fired in a curving free-kick from the right straight at Hart, who did well to repel the ball as it came at him through a crowded area.
A contest that had began with the good news for City of Kompany’s return, following the groin injury he suffered in the 4-0 win over Newcastle United on August 19th, reached the break with Pellegrini needing to inform his troops to counter the threat of Horvath while increasing the tempo when they attacked.
With the Spain international David Silva and Clichy each ruled out due to knee and thigh problems, respectively, Pellegrini had fielded the strongest XI with the intention of a providing City with that elusive Champions League opening group match win.
That victory looked assured 13 minutes into the second half as City hit their opponents with a three-goal blast. The first came after Agüero outmuscled Lukas Hejdas near halfway. If the Argentinian had gone down the right back might have been sent off by the referee Paolo Tagliavento. Instead, the striker stayed on his feet to continue his run towards goal before rolling the ball sideways to Dzeko who fired home the finish past Kozacik. The second came from Touré, after he produced a curling from 20 yards which the goalkeeper could not stop.
In between times Plzen might have equalised.Frantisek Rajtoral moved impressively down the right to reach the byline and cut back a cross from which Jan Kovarik blasted against Pablo Zabaleta for a corner that came to nothing.
But the home side’s hopes disappeared when Agüero scored the goal which his display deserved when a neat swivel was followed by a strike that gave his side an impregnable lead after which Pellegrini’s men could relax.
This was the perfect way to lead into Sunday’s visit to the Etihad Stadium of Manchester United for the first derby encounter of the season. With Kompany coming through 90 minutes unscathed, the next wish for Pellegrini will be that Clichy and Silva can also return to give him the best chance of recording a win over the champions that would register a significant early psychological blow over their hometown rivals.