In the intense cauldron of the Stadio Olimpico with Roma’s partisan crowd on their back, Manchester City’s players looked calm, focused and put in a serene display to waltz into the last 16 of the UEFA Champions League by winning 2-0.
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Going into the match, City knew a win or a score draw was what they needed (if CSKA lost at Bayern Munich, which they did) to go through and although their European fate hung in the balance, Manuel Pellegrini’s men went about their task with impressive maturity.
The Citizens weathered on early storm from their Italian counterparts and grew in confidence as the game wore on. Without leading scorer Sergio Aguero, midfield talisman Yaya Toure and their captain and rock in central defense Vincent Kompany, players like Samir Nasri, Fernandinho and Eliaquim Mangala stepped up to the plate in a big way.
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Skipper for the night, Joe Hart put in a tremendous display in goal as he saved brilliantly from Gervinho, thwarted Jose Holebas early on and tipped Kostas Monalas’s header onto the post in the second half. Speaking to Sky Sports after the game, Hart was delighted with City’s gritty display.
“First of all I’ve got to say it was a great effort from the fans, Rome is a difficult place to come but Samir [Nasri] made their night for them,” Hart said. “People wrote us off without our key players but we’re a strong unit, we believed in what we could do. You don’t win two Premier League titles in three years easily. We have resolve, character and fantastic players – add that together and you’ve got a chance.”
City dug deep and were patient, as they have now won six games on the spin, are into the knockout round of the UCL and are just three points behind Chelsea at the top of the Premier League. Speaking to the media after the game Pellegrini believes his side are back to their best and deserve a little more credit than they’ve been getting.
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“We recovered our normal performance, playing good pressing and playing well with the ball,” Pellegrini said. “We are a solid team, we are recovering the ball in the correct way. I had a lot of trust in what we could do. I said I didn’t want to talk about players not in the team. This team deserve a little more credit than the press always give us.”
Rome is a difficult place to play, as the Italian giants have not lost at home in Serie A all season and City had never previously won in Italy. Without three of their most important players and knowing only a win would do, they went about their business with impressive maturity and proved their current squad is strong enough, and possesses enough quality, to cope with notable absentees.
Fans of the Citizens now await the last 16 draw on Monday, as City made it through to the knockout rounds for the second-straight season and just the second time in club history. All of that is important, but what’s more important is the performance they put in and how effortless they made an incredibly difficult task look.
The rest of the PL, especially Chelsea, will sit up and take notice of this victory as City not only prolonged their involvement in the Champions League. They also breathed fresh impetus into their burgeoning Premier League title credentials, as the reigning Champions are hitting full speed once again.