Manchester City’s Champions League fate hangs in the balance
Victory at Roma vital for Pellegrini who must plan without injured Aguero
Manchester City’s Stevan Jovetic, Edin Dzeko and Frank Lampard warm up during a training session for the game against Roma. Photo: Phil Noble/Reuters
A night in Rome may prove the defining moment of Manuel Pellegrini’s Manchester City career.
The demand from the club‘s owners is material progress in the Champions League. This means that after Pellegrini took the Sheikh Mansour project into the last 16 for the first time last season, the quarter-finals are this term’s target.
Asked if the match was going to be decisive for his future at the club, Pellegrini said: “No, I don’t think so. It‘s an important game and we all want to qualify but I don’t think what happens will have any link to my future. I never received any kind of pressure from the club. I think we will qualify but it has nothing to do with my future here.“
The vagaries of football make reading the runes of any manager’s future an imprecise science – especially when the side Pellegrini made Premier League champions – and claimed the Capital One Cup with – in his inaugural campaign have just won five consecutive league games to force them back into the title race.
Pellegrini must show he has the acumen to plot a route through for City. It will not be easy. Rudi Garcia’s team are second in Serie A and gained a draw in September’s encounter at the Etihad Stadium.
That display was a microcosm of City’s early-season struggles. When sides go at Pellegrini’s men with pace and invention the Vincent Kompany-led rearguard can be flat-footed and the defensive midfielders, Fernandinho and Fernando, fail to offer protection.
When the Plan A of attack allows goals at the wrong end and yields none at the opposition’s, Pellegrini’s Plan B is simply to keep on keeping on.
Only once in the Champions League has the approach worked: in the game against Bayern two weeks ago, when Xabi Alonso allowed in Sergio Aguero for a late equaliser and the forward scored again for a memorable 3-2 victory.
Roma know victory would take them through and are intent on taking the contest to City. Garcia said: “There’s no other option, we need to play for the win and nothing else. There’s no need to use the word ‘motivation’.
Although Kompany, David Silva, Stevan Jovetic and Fernandinho should be available, Pellegrini’s challenge is to qualify without Aguero, who picked up knee ligament damage on Saturday evening. The Argentinian has 19 goals in 21 appearances this term so he is a big loss.
City’s manager, Manuel Pellegrini, said that Aguero would be out for four to six weeks.
“Aguero’s absence is sad news,“ said Roma boss Garcia. “Great players like him should be involved out there. We know that Manchester City are a good side. It will be very tough but I’m sure we can do it.”
Edin Dzeko has vowed to fill the void left by the injured Sergio Aguero. Dzeko is not 100 per cent match-fit following a calf injury but said: “I’m back and I’ll do my best to try and score the goals and bring something good to the team.”