Manchester City staring at an early exit after CSKA defeat

Homeside ended game with only nine players due to dismissals of Fernandinho and Touré

Manchester City 1 CSKA Moscow 2

Manuel Pellegrini’s misfiring Manchester City are bottom of Group E with two points and require a minor miracle to qualify for the knockout stage after this defeat. They ended with only nine players due to Fernandinho’s two yellow cards in eight second half minutes and Yaya Touré’s sending off 10 minutes from the end.

The concern for the manager is this came as no surprise. Questions will be asked of the referee, Anastasios Sidiropulos, over some decisions but City cannot hide behind them after a display that will result in serious scrutiny of Pellegrini.

City suffered a calamitous start when Stevan Jovetic gave possession away facing his goal and CSKA won a free-kick from the ensuing attack as Gaël Clichy was judged to have handled the ball. Bebras Natcho scored the late equaliser when the sides met in Moscow a fortnight ago and this time he turned creator as his delivery was met by Seydou Doumbia, who lost a slumbering Yaya Touré to head past Joe Hart.


A stunned silence hit the Etihad Stadium though to City's credit they instantly hit back as Jovetic and Touré each found a kind of redemption. The Montenegrin surged at the heart of the visitors defence and was fouled so City now had their own free-kick. It was positioned more central than CSKA's had been and Touré stepped up to curl a beauty past Igor Akinfeev to make it 1-1. The Ivorian previously scored in the competition away at Viktoria Plzen last season. His continuing under-performance in the Champions League has become an unwanted trope of the club's fortunes in the competition. And while Touré may have punched the air in celebration he was soon back in disappointing-mode, giving the ball away near the centre spot with a stray pass.

The gauge of Pellegrini’s anxiousness could be found in him taking up near-permanent residence in the technical area throughout the opening half and in the unusual body language. Before Touré’s leveller the Chilean had rocked on his heels in anguish when Jesús Navas was clear but could only blast over.

City’s defence has become a serious weakness of late and was targeted by CSKA in Moscow to good effect. Pellegrini has been doing extra work trying to shore the rearguard up but, again, CSKA were able to punch holes in it at will.

On one occasion Doumbia raced into yards of space to leave a puffing Vincent Kompany playing catch-up. The captain failed and Doumbia really should have given his side the lead again rather than miss to Hart's right, though before the half was over he would find the net again.

As was the case in Sunday’s derby, City lacked poise and rhythm and panache. In Clichy they also had a left-back enduring a nightmare. His ceding of the ball to Natcho in the build-up for CSKA’s second was hardly the first time the Frenchman had done so and from this juncture it was once more too simple for the Russian champions. Natcho slipped the ball to Doumbia on his left and he slid home confidently past Hart.

City had boos aimed at them from an understandably disgruntled support as they wandered off at the break. By any measure this was just not good enough and Pellegrini, who had named the same XI as against Manchester United, made his move at the start of the second period. On came Samir Nasri for Navas and Fernandinho for Jovetic, with the latter a decision to release Touré.

First of all, though, possession of the ball was required. The way Ahmed Musa moved along the right early on to leave the hapless Clichy and Martín Demichelis flailing suggested this might be tricky.

The unpalatable truth facing them was that the champions of England continued to resemble a rabble who were living on hope of reviving their fortunes and little else.

The least expected of elite footballers is to keep on trying and as the hour passed City were plugging away. A first clear chance for Pellegrini’s team arrived at last when Milner skimmed the ball across the turf from the left at Sergio Agüero but the latter could not connect.

Pellergrini was in last-chance saloon territory and his final throw of the die was to pull off Fernando for Edin Dzeko for the closing 25 minutes.

Yet the sense this was becoming a debacle deepened when Fernandinho received his marching orders on 70 minutes to leave City with only 10 men before Touré's late sending off for shoving Roman Eremenko to the ground. CSKA's Pontus Wernbloom had earlier been booked but when he fouled Agüero, Sidiropoulos decided to show Sergei Ignasevich a yellow instead. It summed up City's night.