Nothing symbolized the status of Manchester City’s climb into Europe’s elite like their Champions League record, but after Tuesday’s result at the Etihad Stadium, the ignominious distinction of having never made the knockout stage is gone. Thanks to five goals from their forward tandem, the Sky Blues have clinched a place in final 16, their 5-2 win over visiting CSKA Moscow giving Manuel Pellegrini’s team a six-point edge on the Russian champions. The head-to-head tiebreaker gives City the spot with two group stage matches left.
As opposed to the teams’ contest two weeks ago, one which saw a resourceful City take an invaluable 2-1 win out of Khimki Arena, Tuesday’s game was never close. Zoran Tosic’s third minute take down of David Silva in the left side of the area allowed Sergio Agüero to open the scoring from the spot. At the 20-minute mark, the Argentine international scored his second, his movement along CSKA’s defense utilizing a weapon that would prove unstoppable throughout the night. The right-footed finish into Igor Akinfeev’s lower-left hand corner giving City a 2-0 lead.
It’s been a persistent problem for both CSKA and the Russian national team: The lack of foot speed in central defense. Unfortunately for Leonid Slutsky’s side, Sergio Agüero is one of the worst matchups in the world for a team with that deficiency. From the get-go on Tuesday, center halfs Sergei Ignashevitch and Alexei Berezoutski were out-matched, left chasing a dynamo Khimki’s poor pitch slowed down two weeks ago.
But come the half hour, Agüero took a back seat to Álvaro Negredo, who started and finished the movement on City’s 30th minute goal. A perfect cross from Agüero set up the Spaniard for a tap-in far post, leaving the home side up three.
Seydou Doumbia pulled CSKA within two just before halftime, but after another open net finish from Negredo in the 51st minute, City had restored their lead. The Spanish international completed his hat trick just before the final whistle, by which time Doumbia had scored again, this time from the spot.
Coming off a 7-0 win in Premier League, Tuesday represented City’s second offensive explosion in four days, one which earned the club a bit of history. Though they remain three points behind Bayern Munich for first in Group D, their six-point edge on third-place CSKA ensures the team will be in Champions League come February. For the first time in club history, the team will take part in the competition’s knockout rounds, and while that’s a misleading factoid given City have only made three appearances in the competition, third and fourth place group stage finishes the last two years were seen as bitter disappointments – part of the season Manuel Pellegrini was brought in to replace Roberto Mancini.
After four rounds, Pellegrini has already put that history behind them, and although the first three months of the season have not been perfect, the Chilean has City playing as well as they have all season. With relative ease, the Citizens are into the final 16, looking capable of not only debuting but doing damage come February.
Manchester City: 3′, 20′ Sergio Agüero, 30′, 51′, 90′ Álvaro Negredo
CSKA Moscow: 45′, 71′ Seydou Doumbia
Manchester City: Costel Pantilimon; Pablo Zabaleta, Martin Demichelis, Matija Nastasic, Gael Clichy; Samir Nasri (77′ Jesus Navas), Fernandinho (45′ James Milner), Yaya Touré, David Silva (66′ Aleksandar Kolarov); Sergio Agüero, Álvaro Negredo
Unused Subs: Edin Dzeko, Micah Richards, Joleon Lescott, Joe Hart
CSKA: Igor Akinfeev; Georgy Schennikov, Segei Ignashevich, Alexei Berezoutski, Kiril Nabakin; Pontus Wernbloom, Georgi Milanov (45′ Rasmus Elm); ZoranTosic, Keisuke Honda (78′ Vitinho), Ahmed Musa (45′ Steven Zuber); Seydou Doumbia